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How Much Exercise Do You REALLY Need to Lose Weight?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/10/2013 6:00 AM   :  1170 comments   :  863,298 Views

New guidelines issued from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) state that 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week might not be enough. In 2001, ACSM recommended that overweight and obese adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to improve their health. 200 to 300 minutes per week was recommended for long-term weight loss. But will this amount of exercise really help you lose weight and keep it off?

New research shows that "between 150 and 250 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity is effective in preventing weight gain greater than 3% in most adults but will provide "only modest" weight loss." So ACSM has published new physical activity recommendations in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to lose weight and keep it off if they exercise for least 250 minutes per week. Exercising for more than 250 minutes per week has resulted in "significant" weight loss for these individuals.

So what does this mean? If you're trying to lose weight, 50 minutes of cardio exercise along with regular strength training might be what it takes to see the results you're hoping for.

What do you think? Does 50 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week seem like a lot to you? Or is that in line with what you're already doing? What amount of daily exercise has given you the best results?

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  • 1120
    You don't have to exercise at all. You can still lose weight-if you want to eat very little, be hungry, and be unhealthy. Exercise will lower your bp, lower your cholesterol, lower your blood sugar, improve your stamina, both mentally and physically, lower your depression, and help you sleep. ETC. The body needs exercise. 20 minutes a day is good. 60 is even better! You do what you can; but there is no magic pill, or diet that will ever take its place.

    I don't have time to brush my teeth, take a shower, or drive to work. I do all of them because I have to. Same with exercise. I would rather sit around watching tv, or playing on the computer. But, for my health, I must do more. - 6/7/2014   7:49:17 PM
  • 1119
    From my personal experience, my weight is impacted MUCH more by what I eat than by how much I exercise. It doesn't sound like this study took diet into consideration at all. In February, I followed Haylie Pomroy's Fast Metabolism Diet pretty strictly (confuse to lose, no wheat, whole grains only, no dairy, no sugar, no corn, eating with 3 cycles a week, 3 meals and 2 snacks every day). I was able to keep it up for about 3 weeks to the letter and have done my best since then. I lost 14 lbs the first month and am down another 8 lbs since then. I follow the general guidelines for the most part, but don't eat in cycles. I don't weigh over holidays or when I'm on my cycle, and enjoy birthday parties to the fullest. If I'm craving something, I eat it. Then I get right back on track. Most importantly, I'm nice to myself and don't feel guilty when I have a less-than-stellar day. I have an active job and am on my feet all day and haven't added any exercise above and beyond what I do at work. My body has just gotten more efficient. Two years ago, I exercised all week and followed the SP diet and didn't lose hardly anything. I now use SP to track my weight and to keep my health at the forefront of my mind. Every body and every mind is different, so you have to find what works for you and stick with it! - 5/26/2014   9:09:31 AM
  • 1118
    I thought it was just me but I noticed that I need the 250 minutes to lose. I've been experimenting with higher intensity, shorter workouts it the scale won't budge so I'm going back to 250 minutes per week. - 5/15/2014   12:11:17 PM
  • 1117
    I'm thrilled to see this, as the men in my life (husband, dad, friends) have been warning me against too much cardio. (And I will be honest - I LOVE cardio!) I'm doing strength training as well (alternating days), but only getting about 30 minutes of cardio each day (5 days/week). I'm just not seeing the results that I want to see at this point. I'm going to up my cardio time and see if it helps. Have I mentioned that I am thrilled by this? :) - 4/11/2014   3:58:27 PM
  • 1116
    I go to the gym 6 days a week, I work out for 35 minutes at usually high intensity on the recumbent with the hills and alpine programs, Saturdays is my long day as I have the day off from work and that is an hour. I am dropping a lot of weight quite quickly, and am watching what i eat with a lot of protein, healthy fruits and veggies and complex carbs. I drink a lot of water everyday and treat myself on Sunday with something that I would not normally eat, such as a slice of pizza, etc,,,,this keeps any cravings away for me. I feel great as long as I go to the gym in the morning. - 4/10/2014   11:31:46 PM
  • 1115
    Well this is depressing. - 2/12/2014   8:27:34 PM
    New guidelines means, yet again, the old information was wrong. I choose not to worry about the latest soon-to-be-wrong information.

    The important thing for each person is to figure out what works for them. I've learned that a lot of guidance out there does not lead to weight loss for me (e.g., calories in/out). That's not to say it won't work for others. - 2/1/2014   3:31:06 PM
  • 1113
    A one hour power walk 5 days a week should be fine, especially with a little running mixed in to get my heart beating fast. So I'm already following this prescription. - 2/1/2014   12:59:18 PM
  • 1112
    When I take an honest look at my lifestyle, I know I can fit in this amount of exercise so no, 50 minutes, 5x week doesn't seem like a lot. I just gotta rearrange my priorities. - 2/1/2014   9:31:06 AM
  • 1111
    I think that's why it's important to learn to just be consistent. That's what I'm doing this year. Start at 10 minutes and work to 60 minutes. If I shoot for that 50 minutes right now, I will fail because I'm a single Mom working full-time and losing my job in a few months so now I have to add job hunting to the list. It's made doing 10 minutes of exercise a day a challenge, but it's a more doable goal so I just shoot for that. Once I can consistently do that, I will up it to 15 minutes. If I do more, great. I just make my goal to be consistent. - 2/1/2014   7:57:52 AM
    The only way I can spend that much time exercising per week is if I did not have to work full-time to make a living and sometimes take work home with me. It is completely unrealistic for busy people like myself to have that much time to devote to exercise. It's often difficult to even do 30 min. 5 days a week with it sometimes being only 4 days a week. It's also difficult to eat the small quantities that achieves weight loss and not still be hungry and frustrated. These are the challenges I face in trying to lose weight and don't really know of any easy answers other than to pray I get a windfall of money and can retire! - 1/31/2014   12:13:48 PM
  • 1109
    I guess after reading all the comments I fall into the doesn't seem excessive category. I work out for 50 minutes 6 days a week. Two days with a trainer on strength and four days of cardio. I also watch what I eat and drink and get plenty of sleep. I have lost 20 pounds in 3 months and am within 10 pounds of goal weight. I work 40+ hours a week and find that if I go to the gym before work and get it done my mood is better and I never have to worry about me talking myself out of a workout. So at 6:00am most days you'll see me at the gym :-) - 1/31/2014   12:03:20 PM
  • 1108
    Several weeks ago it wouldn't have made sense. For the last 2 weeks I have been getting up at 5:00 a.m. and doing 60-80 minutes on the treadmill x7. I am watching my calories too. I realized that if I do this first thing, I don't get distracted and not get my cardio done. I have found that everything about my day is better since I've been doing this. If for some unusual reason I don't get my treadmill done first thing, its much easier to find time in the evening. - 1/31/2014   11:39:52 AM
  • 1107
    In the past I've been a regular exerciser...20-30 min. of moderate cardio (walking on the treadmill) and about 15 min. of strength training. It took me 1 year to reach my weight goal, just by cutting back on my regular diet (Mediterranean) and I have kept that and more off for more than 2 years now, basically without any regular exercise because of joint and muscle problems that kept me from my routine. That fact combined with the number of people I saw at the gym that were warrior exercisers with excess weight, I'm convinced that it is what and how much you eat. I still aim to incorporate moderate exercise, especially core training I learned from a personal trainer for the obvious health benefits. But I gave up the gym membership and do what I can, so far successfully. - 1/31/2014   11:14:23 AM
  • 1106
    I do 2 hours of exercise a day most days and I have seen excellent results with cardio and strength training. I also drink a lot of water, sleep well and eat as carefully as I can! I realise for many this may not be doable but I do what works for me! - 1/31/2014   12:41:34 AM
    Sounds about like what I'm doing. An hour a day, 5 days a week. More on weekends, try to stay active all day with an hour cardio session thrown in. I invested in a good elliptical for my home so that helps a lot, and it's fun to go to the gym on the weekends and stay for a couple of hours instead of being rushed. I've always needed to do this though, I used to get so irritated at those who could walk 30 minutes a day and stay fit! I have to get my heart rate up to 150-175 for a solid hour at least 5 times a week to see any weight loss at all. - 1/31/2014   12:34:39 AM
  • 1104
    I don't think I could do 50x5 but I could probably do 35x7. I'm currently doing 25-30 min 3 to 4 times a week (depending on how my knee feels). - 1/30/2014   10:46:21 PM
  • 1103
    The thing that got me was not just 50 minutes, but: "50 minutes of cardio exercise along with regular strength training". Wow that's some amount of time. I currently do 30-40 minutes of cardio four days a week with strength training for about 45 minutes those four days. I'm not sure I can do (or want to do) more. - 1/30/2014   8:41:34 PM
  • 1102
    Guess what? Whatever works for Y.O.U. Not what works for someone else. You know your own body and how it works. I have lost weight working out 30 minutes a day, and sometimes resting my muscles one day in between. Nonsense working out 250 plus more minutes a day. Do what you know works. - 1/30/2014   7:55:07 PM
    I'm 75 and I work out 90 to 120 minutes a day,but I divide it into two or three sessions.Usually morning,afternoon and evening or morning and evening,But intelligent eating habits must still come into play.
    Frank - 1/30/2014   7:47:43 PM
  • MIKEY48
    I am 65 years old have exercised at least 250 minutes a week for 50 years with weights & running .I still have a hard time losing weight unless I train for a marathon.If I slacked off to 150 minutes I always gained weight.It sure is good for my mental attitude but weight loss it difficult - 1/30/2014   7:30:38 PM
  • 1099
    50 minutes 5 days a week plus strength training would be very hard to maintain. I don't think I could fit that in my life and I am retired!!! - 1/30/2014   5:25:36 PM
  • 2PLUS4
    I would love to exercise 50 minutes 5 times a week. But with a busy life and 5 kids it is hard to even get 20 minutes. - 1/30/2014   5:17:06 PM
  • 1097
    I count calories very carefully, but need to do one hour of exercise every day to lose weight. I walk for 30 minutes in the morning and do 30 min. on the elliptical at night. I also lift weights three times a week. Now that I'm over 40, it's the only way for me to lose. I've tried eating less, but then my blood sugar plummets and I can't do anything.
    Studies show that inactivity is really bad for you, so I intend to stay as active as possible. - 1/30/2014   3:48:55 PM
    My clients would immediately give up if I told them they need to do an hour of exercise a day!! Interval training - high intensity (for them) works! Even in five minutes blocks - I have templates of 10 minutes program following 4,3,2,1 method and goal is to do 3 sets a day. But then I use hypnosis to change their mind about food first. 50 minutes a day of exercise is nonsense - don't think I do that most days! - 1/30/2014   3:22:09 PM
  • 1095
    I think if you can do even 15-20 min of rigorous exercise about 5 per week and add in more steps daily it's a step in the right direction. (I wear a Fit Bit to help me track my progress!) It's funny because I used to work out like crazy 6 days per week and about 45-60 min per session. I counted my calories like a mad woman and watched what I ate and I still had little success in the weight loss department. When I switched to a plant based lifestyle starting with The Engine 2 28day challenge, and reduced my work out times to 20-30min, I actually LOST!!! I think that filling my body with nutritious plant based foods and working out to make my body feel better has worked much better than to try and work out like crazy just to lose weight! When I started filling my body with whole foods like greens, fruits and veggies, beans and nuts and stopped eating processed foods, meats and dairy is when my body transformed and I didn't even have to try to shed pounds even eating 1600 calories per day. I treat myself well, and just move for the health benefits. :-) - 1/30/2014   3:12:39 PM
  • 1094
    No, you don't need to exercise AT ALL. I lost more than 50 pounds on Weight Watchers w/o changing my exercise habits. An hour of exercise a day? No thank you. - 1/30/2014   2:31:59 PM
  • 1093
    While this article may be true in fact, it is an awfully broad generalization. I also believe that this isn't factoring in a healthful diet.

    Posting this article may discourage some people. I have seen significant results from starting slowly and building from there.

    I would just really hate to see someone feel like their situation is hopeless as a result of reading this article. - 1/30/2014   11:26:53 AM
  • 1092
    Are they assuming the people don't change their diet also? It sure would take a lot of exercise to lose a significant amount of weight if you're still eating at a maintenance-or-above level! I believe weight loss is more about what goes in your mouth. Exercise for cardiovascular health and other benefits. - 1/30/2014   10:40:14 AM
  • 1091
    If you read the article, it states that you can get the recommended 150 mins of moderate intensity exercise for modest weight loss and weight gain prevention but if you increase the amount of time you will lose more weight and keep it off. Well you don't say! Is this really such a shocking revelation? Also ACSM stands for the American College of Sports Medicine, it does not specialize in nutrition so that's why it doesn't go into a great amount of detail. Just as a nutrition based organization would not go into specifics about exercise. ACSM does offer general guidelines about nutrition and weight loss but for the purpose of this article, who ever pulled it together just grabbed that small part and threw some quotes around it. You aren't getting the full picture. Yes a healthy diet is a key part of losing weight and keeping it off but that is not ACSM's focus as an organization. - 1/30/2014   9:38:00 AM
  • 1090
    I have lost about 65 pounds the past year by doing interval training and interval cardio. I am at about the weight I was in college. I do not do my interval cardio over 30 minutes because a doctor who is a chiropractor and works with Olympic teams, named Dr. Joseph Arvay (you can Google his name) told me if you do cardio over 30 minutes you release cortisone, which inhibits fat burning. I use maxT3 to exercise and it exercises 51 different muscle groups in the body. My overall workout takes about one hour - combining strength and cardio. Dr. Arvay works with Maximized Living Doctors and they are brilliant. The Maximized Living Doctors developed maxT3. On the maxT3 routines, it does not contain the cardio I do but Dr. Arvay told me to do it, so I warmup 3-5 minutes by walking and then I increase to running moderately for 3-5 minutes, walk 3-5 minutes, increase my running speed, and continue this through 30 minutes, with a warm down at the end for 3 minutes. I find that eating properly is the most important thing to losing weight and exercise is second. - 1/30/2014   9:15:52 AM
  • 1089
    50 minutes 5 times a week does seem like a lot. I usually do 40-45 minutes. I swim laps for 40 minutes and think increasing it to 50 would leave me exhausted. I am 57. Anything you can do is always better than nothing and you have to find what works for you. I am at an age where I have to mix it up or I will have overuse injuries and not be able to do anything. This is good information and a good goal for some, but not for all. I hope it doesn't discourage people. - 1/30/2014   8:46:35 AM
    We are all busy. I suppose the point is exercise is important but diet is 80%. You'll loose weight by watching what you eat. Exercise gives you endorphin rushes that make you feel good and want to take care of yourself. 50 min per day every day is a lot, but that's because we have never made it a priority. If health is a priority you'll make happen what ever it takes. If your child is sick you do what it takes, if exercising 50 min per day will save your life you'll do it. All about choices. Good luck all! - 1/30/2014   8:40:17 AM
    Hey, I am right in there with "FairyDogmother3" and "RosiePD" and "ArmyWifeyP86". I am 62 years old and had Cancer surgery to remove my thyroid making it almost impossible to shed the 30 lbs gained from THAT experience. But these three ladies make sense! - 1/30/2014   8:39:51 AM
  • 1086
    right now I can't really exercise do to injury. But, my hubby and I walked 40 to 50 miles a week. In the summer we walk six to eight miles before I had to go to work. My part time job is at a family owned garden center, and I work in the tree lot, so every time a semi came in I had to unload with help. I considered that my weight lifting. The most I did in one day at work was 35,000 steps and 13 miles that's using my Fitbit. Needless to say I was dragging and could not do that everyday at age 60. - 1/30/2014   8:38:40 AM
  • JMB369
    I guess I fall into the camp that says less can be more. I think consistency is key, and it's better to do 15 minutes a day and actually DO it 6 or 7 days/week, than strive for 30-40-50 minutes and end up doing it only once or twice a week.

    I also agree with those who emphasize calorie limits over expanding exercise time and intensity. As several people have already noted, the mathematics of it are key, and I know that I can only cut my food intake so far. For me, that means to lose weight I must exercise more. If I am going to exercise more, it must be FUN! And there must be variety. And guess what? That's a healthier approach.

    Someone mentioned that this article does not take N.E.A. T. into account, and I believe that's super important. If I am running up and down the stairs, putting boxes into our storage area, or doing my bimonthly shopping at Costco and putting away hundreds of pounds of canned goods and frozen food, I am getting lots more "exercise" than on those days when housework consists of standing in the kitchen preparing fresh vegetables or walking into the yard to cut some flowers for the table.

    Let's be honest. We live in an era when our lives are busy but not necessarily active, and as human beings we were born to be active. My grandparents were farmers, and believe me, excess weight was not an issue for them! It's about choices. I find it hard to "make" myself exercise, because it's boring, but when I walk to the grocery store or the post office instead of getting into the car, or I do a dance class, then the exercise is secondary to the activity, and that works better for me. - 1/30/2014   8:35:47 AM
  • CHUBBS86
    A great number of people have made very valid points. As for me, I started out with 5-6 days a week, 1-2 hours of cardio and 30 min of strength training. I also changed my diet (less carbs and smaller meals). With this vigorous workout, it still took me about 5months to lose 43 pounds. Thinking that since I was now into maintaining instead of losing, in about my 8th month I cut back to 3 days a week with 1 1/2 hours of cardio and about 20-30 min of strength training, but my new way of eating had also changed, I was back to some of my old habits (eating larger meals) and low and behold, I gained back 6 lbs. I've since decided that I worked to hard to get that weight off and that I definitely did not want the scale going upward. I now workout 4-5 days a week for 1-2 hours, cardio/strength training combo and have gotten my eating back on track. Hopefully, I can get those extra 6lbs back off and keep it that way. I just don't want to have to work out so vigorously to keep it off. Any suggestions? - 1/30/2014   8:24:24 AM
  • 1083
    Even when I was *much* younger, I realized my body needed a lot more exercise to lose weight. In my yo-yo days, I had to lose weight several times to make my military weigh-ins, and my tactic was two workouts a day. So glad now to be maintaining instead of yo-yoing. - 1/30/2014   8:16:01 AM
  • DYOUNG4016
    In my humble opinion it is a math/best use of your time problem. Calories in vs calories out. To lose a pound a week you can either reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories per day or you can exercise the amount of time required to burn 500 calories. I walk on a treadmill and at my weight it is about 45 minutes to burn 500 calories. To maintain a level of fitness I walk 30 minutes daily (-320 calories) and log what I eat to eliminate another 200 calories. It requires 2400 calories to maintain my current weight so I eat no more than 2200 calories daily (-200 calories). I have lost 18 pounds in 6 months doing this. According to the math I should have lost 26 lbs, so obviously I have fallen a little short on one or both goals but am very pleased with the results. Many years ago I read that once you exceed 45 minutes of running or walking the risk of injury then exceeds the value of benefits derived. I never go over 45 minutes. - 1/30/2014   6:43:52 AM
  • 1081
    Hmmm, the original article content is no longer available. I'm going to wait for the New 'New guidelines' to be published before I make a comment. :) - 1/30/2014   5:58:01 AM
    I realised this some time ago! Exercise stops me from putting on weight, but no matter how much I do, I have never lost weight without cutting down on food (and I dont overeat on a day to day basis anyway!)
    Exercise is vital to keep you fit and keep your mood elevated and to build muscle. - 1/30/2014   4:23:30 AM
    I am permanently in a wheelchair and the only exercise that is cardiovascular is a power driven legs exerciser and sometime a horizontal bike at the gym. The gym bike gets more and more difficult as the nerves to my legs continue to die. I can pedal the home exerciser for an hour and I do it watching TV. - 1/30/2014   3:12:00 AM
    Tri_Babe is right.

    Although, it isn't just WHAT you eat, but how much you eat.

    After an extended hospital stay where I was on a feeding tube and gained considerable weight, I found that my stomach had shrunk and I could not eat even half of what I was used to consuming per meal. I quickly lost most of the weight I had put on while bed ridden, by doing no more than eating less and 10 minutes of vigorous cycling a day on a stationary bike. - 1/30/2014   1:26:41 AM
  • 1077
    Great comment, TRI_BABE. I've never heard that expression before ("you can't out-exercise a bad diet"), but it's a keeper. I used to think of exercise as a way to lose weight but I now think of exercise as a way to keep fit instead. For weight, I focus on what I eat. - 1/8/2014   11:36:27 PM
  • 1076
    They should emphasize eating less and nutritional changes, which represents 70-80% of weight loss, versus trying to do more/exercise more. You can lose weight by just eating less and not exercising but it would be rare to find someone who loses weight by exercising and not watching what they eat. An old saying many of us know: "you can't out-exercise a bad diet"... If someone likes to exercise a lot, fine, but you don't need to burn off what you don't put in your mouth in the first place. - 1/8/2014   10:04:14 PM
  • 1075
    WOW........I must be in the minority as I don't think that is a lot for exercise. I do cardio 5 days a week for 60 minutes each time and strength training for 60 minutes each time 4 days a week. I have a super busy go--go life and I still find time to do this. It's all about what is important to you. - 1/8/2014   8:56:55 PM
  • 1074
    Wow, almost an hour of exercise a day. When I was a teenager I was able to do that, but I had three kids since then, and am starting to get back into working out. I hope to eventually get back to doing an hour a day for 5 days a week. Doing something you love is key to sticking with it. I do something different every day. Some days I will work out with a video, and other days I will workout with the wii or do something active outside. Today I rolled a big ball of snow with my son for a half hour. It was work, but I thought it was fun. - 1/8/2014   8:04:16 PM
  • 1073
    Apparently the ACSM hasn't spoken with the founder of Spark people or the thousands of Sparkers that have lost weight and dramatically improved their health with only 10 minutes of exercise per day. - 1/8/2014   7:01:27 PM
  • 1072
    I lost over 30 lbs with just diet alone and have kept it off. I don't think exercise is necessary for weight loss at all. This year my resolution is to exercise to get fit. It's only been a week into my exercise routine, so I don't know yet if it will result in greater weight loss per week. 50 minutes a day is a long time especially if you have work, family, and just life in general to get done too. You get more exercise than you give yourself credit for just by going about your daily chores. - 1/8/2014   6:28:24 PM
  • 03191952
    Enjoyed your experiences, great job, well done. - 1/8/2014   5:43:52 PM

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