Exercises to Lose Weight—and Keep It Off

Medically Reviewed

Exercise is a valuable element of a weight-loss program—and you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get results. It’s even more important if you want to maintain your weight-loss, which is harder than losing weight in the first place.

Combining exercise with a reduced-calorie diet will help you lose more body weight and fat than dieting alone. The good news is that exercise gives you some wiggle room in the calorie department. To lose 1 pound per week you need to cut out about 500 calories a day. By adding a half hour of moderate to vigorous exercise each day (enough to burn 250 calories), you can reduce your calorie restriction to a more manageable 250 calories daily.

The effect of exercise is cumulative. For example, while it takes about nine hours of walking at a normal pace for a 175-pound person to burn 3,500 calories and lose 1 pound of body fat, the walking does not have to be completed all at once. You can achieve the same calorie deficit if you walk for half an hour each day for 18 days, 45 minutes a day for 12 days, or an hour a day for nine days. Even if you alternate days or work out only three times a week, you can still burn the same number of calories; it will just take you longer to do so.

You can even break up an exercise session into segments. For example, a 10-minute walk in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch and 10 minutes in the evening still burns the same number of calories as a single 30-minute walk. Yet less than 5 percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day.

Start an exercise program gradually. Trying to do too much too soon may lead to muscle strain and soreness, or even injury. It is also important to make sure your exercise plan suits your lifestyle. For example, if you are a morning person, select that time to exercise. Don’t forget that sedentary men over age 40 and sedentary women over age 50 and those with chronic diseases should consult their doctor before starting any vigorous exercise program (although most healthy people can start a moderate exercise program on their own).

Here’s more information on exercises to lose weight:

1. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Aerobic activity should be done in bouts of at least 10 minutes, and it should be spread throughout the week. For more extensive health and weight loss benefits, boost your physical activity to 5 hours per week. Look for ways to add physical activity to your lifestyle: For example, walk rather than drive, or take the stairs rather than an elevator or escalator. When doing errands or shopping, park some distance from your destination and walk the rest of the way. If you are at risk of falling, try exercises that maintain or improve balance. Check with your doctor to find out whether you can participate in physical activities safely. If you can’t meet the aerobic activity guidelines, be as physically active as you are able.

2. Start a formal walking program. Walking can be done anywhere, requires no special equipment (other than a supportive pair of shoes), and almost anyone can do it.

Set your own pace: You expend approximately the same number of calories during an hour of slow walking as in half an hour of brisk walking. Start by walking for 10 to 30 minutes three times a week. Once you adjust to this level of activity, walk for the same length of time five days a week.

Next, gradually increase the duration of your walking to 40 minutes, then 50 minutes, and ultimately one hour or more. As you become more physically fit, you will be able to walk faster and go farther—and thus burn more calories in a given period of time. Consider walking with a friend or dog to stay motivated.

3. Vary your activities. If you enjoy walking, make it the foundation of your exercise program. However, to prevent boredom and work different muscle groups, you might want to choose other activities to substitute for walking on some days. Good choices include aerobic dance classes, bicycling, line dancing or swimming. The most important rule, however, is to engage in activities that are enjoyable to you and convenient enough to do regularly.

4. Start a weight-training program. Working a muscle against resistance increases muscle size and strength. Having more muscle increases your metabolism, because muscle requires more energy to maintain than fat. You don’t have to become a body builder or lift heavy weights to benefit. Working the major muscle groups—chest, arms, legs and back—with light weights, two to three times a week, is sufficient.

Remember that because muscle is denser and heavier than fat, strength training may slightly reduce the number of pounds you lose. However, when you build muscle and lose fat, you’ll have a leaner physique.

The best exercise plan is one that includes activities that involve stretching, balance, aerobic exercise and strength training. These types of exercises help to maintain overall strength, lower blood pressure and strengthen bones.