Being active can help you lose weight and keep it off. Find out how much you need.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Being active is important for 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.

To lose weight, most people need to reduce the number of calories they consume and increase their physical activity, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In general, that means that to lose 1 1/2 pounds (0.7 kilograms) a week, you need to reduce your daily calories by 500 to 750 calories.

There are other factors that can influence this equation. Because of changes that occur in the body over time, you might need to decrease calories further to continue losing weight or maintaining it.

Both are important. 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.

Weight loss through diet without physical activity, especially in older people, can increase frailty because of age-related losses in bone density and muscle mass. Adding aerobic and resistance training to a weight-loss program helps counter the loss of bone and muscle.

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 combine 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. The guidelines don't include a recommendation for the amount of time to devote to each session.

Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, swimming and ballroom dancing. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such 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 physical activity every day.

This list shows the estimated number of calories burned while doing various exercises for one hour. This is to give you an idea of the relative calorie burn of various activities for a person who weighs 160 pounds (73 kilograms).

Specific calorie expenditures vary widely depending on the exercise, intensity level and individual characteristics such as weight.

Activity (1-hour duration) 160 lbs. (73 kg)
Aerobics, low-impact 365
Aerobics, water 402
Bicycling, < 10 mph, leisure 292
Dancing, ballroom 219
Elliptical trainer, moderate effort 365
Golfing, carrying clubs 314
Hiking 438
Running, 5 mph 606
Skiing, downhill 314
Swimming laps, light or moderate 423
Walking, 3.5 mph 314

Based on 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.

Dec. 05, 2017