Exercise and activity for weight loss

An active lifestyle and exercise routine, along with eating healthy, is the best way to lose weight.

The Weight-loss Formula

Calories used in exercise > calories eaten = weight loss.

This means that to lose weight, the number of calories you burn by exercising needs to be greater than the number of calories from the foods you eat and drink. Even if you work out a lot, if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.

Another way to look at this is that a 30- to 50-year-old woman who does not exercise needs about 1,800 calories a day to maintain her normal weight. A 30- to 50-year-old man who does not exercise needs about 2,200 calories to maintain his normal weight.

For every hour of exercise they do, they would burn:

  • 240 - 300 calories doing light activity such as cleaning house or playing baseball or golf
  • 370 - 460 calories doing activity such as a brisk walk (3.5 mph), gardening, biking (5.5 mph), or dancing
  • 580 - 730 calories doing activity such jogging at a pace of 9 minutes per mile, playing football, or swimming laps
  • 740 - 920 calories doing activity such as running at a pace of 7 minutes per mile, playing racquetball, and skiing

If this man and woman do not change their diet and add any of the activities above to their lifestyle, they will lose weight.

Benefits of Weight Loss

An exercise weight-loss program that works needs to be fun and keep you motivated. It helps to have a specific goal. Your goal might be managing a health condition, reducing stress, improving your stamina, or being able to buy clothes in a smaller size. Your exercise program may also be a way for you to be with other people. Exercise classes or exercising with a buddy are both good social outlets.

You may have a hard time starting an exercise routine, but once you do, you will begin to notice other benefits. Improved sleep and self esteem might be a couple of them. Other benefits you may not notice include healthy bone growth and a lower risk for heart disease.

Getting Started

You do not need to join a gym to get exercise. If you have not exercised or been active in a long time, be sure to start off slowly to prevent injuries. Taking a brisk 10-minute walk twice a week is a good start.

If they appeal to you, try joining a dance, yoga, or karate class. You could also join a baseball or bowling team, or even a mall-walking group. The social aspects of these groups can be rewarding and motivating.

The most important thing is that you do exercises that you enjoy.

Build Physical Activity into Your Regular Routine

Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference over time.

  • At work, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking down the hall to talk with a co-worker instead of sending an e-mail, or adding 10- to 20-minute walk during lunch.
  • When you are running errands, try parking at the far end of the parking lot, or even down the street. Even better, try walking to the store.
  • At home, try taking on common chores such as vacuuming, washing a car, gardening, raking leaves, or shoveling snow.
  • If you ride the bus, get off the bus 1 stop before your usual stop and walk the rest of the way.

Reduce Your Screen Time

Sedentary behaviors are things you do while you are sitting still. Decreasing your sedentary behaviors can help you lose weight. For most people, the best way to decrease sedentary behavior is to reduce the time they spend watching TV and using a computer and other electronic devices. All of these activities are called "screen time."

Some ways to decrease the harm of too much screen time are:

  • Choose 1 or 2 TV programs to watch, and turn off the TV when they are over.
  • Do not keep the TV on all the time for background noise -- you might end up sitting down and watching it. Turn on the radio instead. You can be up doing things around the house and still listen to the radio.
  • Do not eat while you are watching TV.
  • Take the batteries out of your TV remote control and get up to change the channel.
  • Before you turn on the TV, take your dog or a neighbor’s dog for a walk. If you are going to miss your favorite show, record it.
  • Find activities to replace TV-watching. Read a book, play a board game with family or friends, or take an evening cooking class.
  • Work out on an exercise or yoga ball while you watch TV. You will burn calories. You can also set up a stationary bike or treadmill in front of your TV and use those while you watch.

If you like playing video games, try games that require you to move your whole body, not just your thumbs.

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Aim to exercise about 2.5 hours a week. Do moderate-intensity aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Depending on your schedule, you could exercise 30 minutes 5 days a week or 45 - 60 minutes 3 days a week.

You do not have to do your total daily exercise all at once. If your goal is to exercise for 30 minutes, you can break that up into shorter time periods that add up to 30 minutes.

As you become more fit, you can challenge yourself by increasing the intensity of your exercise by going from light activity to moderate activity. You can also increase the amount of time you exercise.


Position of the American Dietetic Association: Weight Management. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Feb 2009;109(2): 330-346.

Williams MA, Haskell WL, Ades PA, et al. Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: 2007 update. A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Circulation. 2007 [e-pub July 16, 2007.]

Update Date: 10/1/2012

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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