Health & Wellness Articles

Your Fitness Plan for Weight Maintenance

How to Adjust Your Fitness Program after Reaching Your Weight Loss Goal

If you’re thinking that reaching your goal weight means you can finally slack off when it comes to exercise, then it’s time to change that thinking right now. The fact is that people who are successful at maintaining their weight loss over time do as much or more physical activity than they did while losing weight.

According to the Framingham Study (the largest ongoing study ever conducted on what it takes to maintain weight loss over time), here’s what the successful “maintainers” have in common when it comes to physical activity:
  • They spend an hour or more per day doing some kind of moderate-intensity physical activity
  • They typically burn between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per week (on average) with exercise
  • They watch less than 16 hours of TV per week, and usually less than 2 hours per day
  • They incorporate a significant amount of physical activity into their daily routines, often by doing many things the “old-fashioned way,” without using modern labor-saving devices.
The good news is that you don’t have to live the life of a professional athlete in constant training to keep the bulge at bay. If you are athletic, continuing that level of activity is great, of course. But finding some kind of recreational activity that’s enjoyable enough not to feel like “exercise” is always a good idea. After all, you’ll have an easier time sticking to your exercise plan and beating boredom if you’re having fun.

But “moderate intensity physical activity” can also include brisk walking and anything else that gets your heart rate up to an aerobic level. In fact, walking is by far the most common form of regular activity successful maintainers do on a daily basis. And you don’t have to lug your laundry down to the local stream and do it by hand to increase your “lifestyle” activity; just unplug the electric can-opener and mixer, keep the cell phone in the next room, and take the batteries out of your TV’s remote control—you get the idea.

Elements of the Ideal Fitness Plan
Exercising to maintain your weight loss isn’t much different than working out to lose weight, get fit or stay fit. The important thing is that you don’t slack off on any element of your exercise plan. People who struggle with their weight usually have metabolisms that naturally want to store extra energy as fat instead of burning it off. That’s not going to change just because you lost weight. You’ll have to work out just as hard—and as smart—to keep your metabolism in high gear and keep the weight off. Exercise and other lifestyle activities are essential to doing that. Make sure that, at minimum, your exercise program for maintenance includes these three elements:
  • At least 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity cardio, most days of the week. Lower intensity cardio (55%-65% of your maximum heart rate) is adequate to preserve your fitness level. Aim for higher intensity cardio (70%-85% of your maximum heart rate) for at least three of your cardio sessions per week. This helps your body use more energy (and especially fat) even when you’re not exercising, which will aid you in maintaining your new weight. Read our reference guides for Aerobic Exercise and Exercise Intensity to learn more.
  • At least two strength training sessions per muscle (or muscle group) each week. Building and maintaining your lean (muscle) mass will keep your metabolism up so that you’re more likely to burn calories instead of storing them as fat. Many people who stop strength training after losing weight end up regaining fat even though the number on the scale doesn’t go up right away. By the time it does start going up, they’ve already lost quite a bit of the muscle. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to keep your body composition where it needs to be for weight maintenance—but you do need be regularly challenging your muscles to do a little more than they are used to handling. For more ideas and information read our Reference Guide to Strength Training or check out our Workout Generator.
  • As much extra “lifestyle activity” as you can. This is a case where every little bit helps. In any given day, we usually spend most of our time doing things (like sitting) that don’t require a lot of extra energy expenditure. Therefore, every little bit of activity you do throughout the day can make a big difference—often the difference between keeping those pounds off or letting them creep back on so slowly you hardly notice them.
Moving Into Maintenance Mode
Going “off” your diet or exercise plan, and back to the patterns that made you overweight to begin with, is a one-way ticket right back to where you started. Ideally, you won’t need to make any big changes in your exercise routine at this point. (In fact, the fewer changes you make, and the smaller they are, the more successful you’ll be at keeping the weight off.) But you will probably need to make some minor changes to stabilize your weight. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Check your weight frequently (at least weekly). The goal here is not to panic over every small increase in your weight—it’s normal for it to fluctuate from day to day during maintenance just as it did during weight loss. But while you’re in the process of trying to identify where your energy (calorie) needs, you’ll need to spot any upward trends in your weight before you get to the point that you need to go back to weight loss mode. Most successful maintainers weigh in at least weekly, and start tinkering with their nutrition and workouts if they see a significant gain (or loss) for two weeks in a row.
  • Track your daily calorie intake—at least for a little while. It probably won’t be necessary to do this for very long, but it’s a very good idea to double check yourself for a while just to make sure you’re counting everything, estimating portions accurately, and covering all your nutrition needs—especially if you’re making substantial changes in how much you eat and/or exercise. Learn more about Your Nutrition Plan for Weight Maintenance.
  • Make changes one at a time, and in small increments. If your weight loss doesn’t stop or you start gaining weight, you’ll need to figure out the best way to change things. You won’t be able to tell what effect any particular change is having if you make a bunch of them at once, so try one thing at a time and give yourself a chance to see what works.
  • Maintain your social support network. People who abandon the support systems and activities they used to lose weight are much more likely to regain the weight than people who stay in contact. So don’t assume that reaching your goal weight means you don’t belong at SparkPeople anymore. Helping others do what you’ve done is one of the best ways to help yourself maintain your own achievements.
Remember that exercising for weight management is not all about the big calorie burns you get from an intense workout session—it’s also about walking a few extra steps every time you can, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking up the hill instead of going around it, sitting on a stability ball instead of a chair, doing things the old fashioned way, or pumping out a few jumping jacks during those TV commercials.

Now the ball’s in your court—all you have to do is keep it moving!

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Member Comments

  • Reading theses now even though I still have about 150 pounds left to go. I want this kinda of stuff to be just as natural as the NEW changes I had to make for my weight loss (50 Lbs so far) by the time I get to my goal. I looks like it boils down to don't give up and don't stop paying attention to your body. But keep the articals coming so i can get all the facts as i get there.
  • Just read this and found that it is what I am doing. It is nice to know you go it right.

    It is now 2 1/2 years around the same weight
  • Great article. I hope when I reach my maintenance that I stay there.
  • Hmmm, these comments are from quite some time ago, lots of concerns about having to burn so many calories and how unrealistic that is. I am getting ready for maintenance mode...hope to be there in about two or three weeks at most (though the last few pounds take a lot longer). I have gained/lost gained/lost so many times and this is the last time, so I am really trying to be prepared and knowledgeable about this. I really liked this article and I thought that the calorie burn was on target. Right now I generally burn about 4,000 to 5,000 a week through exercise and I am not a hugely obsessive exerciser. I fully understand that I am doing this for life....I might be able to back off a little when I get to my goal weight but I expect to still be burning a good number each week. Also, I am not some spring chicken...I am pushing 50 and have never really loved exercise....this CAN be done!
  • After the series of comments against the 2-3K calorie burn, I thought I'd give the opposite perspective. First off, I'm a guy while it was all women saying that amount is too much for them. It's possible that the article needs to have a range of calories based on your current weight. However, for me, burning 3K per week is absolutely normal, and that's even in the winter when I'm not running. When it's warmer, I'll burn 3K per week JUST running, and probably double that once you add in the gym for weights and yoga.
  • I agree ... 2,000 to 3,000 calories burned per week is insane. I don't think I've ever burned that many calories in a week - even during my weight loss days. I burn about 1,000 - 1,500 calories a week. People who burn that much must eat larger meals. They would have to to maintain daily body functions.
  • 2000-3000 calories a week is too much for me. I used to burn 3000 calories a week and I found that I was working out so hard, that I stopped menstruating. Not a good sign! So, following my doctor's advice I have cut back, but only to 2000 calories a week. It has almost been a month and I still haven't started menstruating again....If I reach my goal weight next week, I will cut back down to 1500 calories. If that doesn't work, I am going to go right back down to 1000 calories a week. Exercising that hard is not good for my health.
  • 2,000 to 3,000 calories a week! That is crazy. Now maybe I don't estimate correctly, but even at the "height" of weight loss the most I ever burned in a week was 1700 calories. Maybe because this is a result of successful maintainers being physically fit, but it is a little eye-popping.
  • This sounds very much like what is in Anne Fletchers book THIN FOR LIFE. I have read it, and have made up my mind to be one of those success stories!

    I am doing pretty good so far. Only recently found out that my weight is about 5 lbs. less now than a year ago this time. I have not had to toss out my wardrobe and buy BIGGER for the first time in my dieting life. That to me is success with a capital "S"!!!
  • Great article. Each and everyone of us SHOULD get to the maintenance stage and stay there, so this REALLY is what is important to talk about. I'm reading the book "Shrink Yourself" by Roger Gould, M.D. about emotional eating, so when I'm at goal I won't ruin it with stress eating, which has been a fear for me. Exercise won't be that difficult, because it becomes more of a routine each month I stay being a SPARKER.
  • Great article! The more information SP can provide for successful maintenance, the better! After all, all of us plan to end up there sooner or later :) The comments on strength training were especially important. I was surprised to see the "hour a day" suggestion and would like to learn more details about how that was computed.
  • thanks. that was helpful
    Thanks for the information

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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