Being active is an important part of any weight-loss or weight-maintenance program. When you're active, your body uses more energy (calories). And when you burn more calories than you consume, you lose weight.

Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your diet each day, you'd lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). There are other factors that can influence this equation. Because of changes that occur in the body over time, calories may need to be decreased further to continue weight loss.

Both are important. However, while diet has a stronger effect on weight loss than physical activity does, physical activity, including exercise, has a stronger effect in preventing weight regain after weight loss.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:

  • Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. However, to effectively lose or maintain weight, some people may need up to 300 minutes a week of moderate physical activity. You can do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week, and sessions of activity should be at least 10 minutes long.
  • Strength training. Do strength training exercises at least twice a week. No specific amount of time for each strength training session is included in the guidelines.

Moderate aerobic exercise includes such activities as brisk walking, swimming and mowing the lawn. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes such activities as running and aerobic dancing. Strength training can include use of weight machines, or activities such as carrying groceries or heavy gardening.

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of overall physical activity every day.

This chart shows the estimated number of calories burned while doing various exercises for one hour. Specific calorie expenditures vary widely depending on the exercise, intensity level and individual characteristics such as weight.

Activity (1-hour duration) Weight of person and calories burned
  160 pounds (73 kilograms) 200 pounds (91 kilograms) 240 pounds (109 kilograms)
Aerobics, high impact 533 664 796
Aerobics, low impact 365 455 545
Aerobics, water 402 501 600
Backpacking 511 637 763
Basketball game 584 728 872
Bicycling, < 10 mph, leisure 292 364 436
Bowling 219 273 327
Canoeing 256 319 382
Dancing, ballroom 219 273 327
Elliptical trainer, moderate effort 365 455 545
Football, touch or flag 584 728 872
Golfing, carrying clubs 314 391 469
Hiking 438 546 654
Ice skating 511 637 763
Racquetball 511 637 763
Resistance (weight) training 365 455 545
Rollerblading 548 683 818
Rope jumping 861 1,074 1,286
Rowing, stationary 438 546 654
Running, 5 mph 606 755 905
Running, 8 mph 861 1,074 1,286
Skiing, cross-country 496 619 741
Skiing, downhill 314 391 469
Skiing, water 438 546 654
Softball or baseball 365 455 545
Stair treadmill 657 819 981
Swimming laps, light or moderate 423 528 632
Swimming laps, vigorous 715 892 1,068
Tae kwon do 752 937 1,123
Tai chi 219 273 327
Tennis, singles 584 728 872
Volleyball 292 364 436
Walking, 2 mph 204 255 305
Walking, 3.5 mph 314 391 469
Yoga, hatha 183 228 273
Yoga, power 292 364 436

Adapted from: Ainsworth BE, et al. 2011 compendium of physical activities: A second update of codes and MET values. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43:1575.

Nov. 15, 2014