Moving for fun · Self-Care · Weight loss

How much exercise do we really need?


If you are asking this question – first off, congratulations! You are on the right track – making a decision to put on snickers and setting exercise goals is a major step towards becoming more active and healthier overall.

The amount of exercise needed

Per the Department of Health and Human Services current recommendation is to perform at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. That translates into 30 min/5 times a week of moderate activity (walking, light jogging, leisurely bike riding, yoga and gentle stretch) OR 25 min/3 times a week of vigorous activity like running, fast riding, High Intensity Interval Training (think CrossFit), resistance training, power yoga, bootcamp etc.

As for weight loss, exercise has not proven to be a major contributing direct factor. It only accounts for about 20% of your overall weight loss efforts when taken as a merely energy-burning tool. Like they say – you can’t outrun your fork – diet is still the mail component of weight loss. So, than how come working out is so highly recommended and regarded for most weight loss and wellness plans? Read on.

Direct effects of exercise

Directly exercise burns only so many calories:

  • Run for 30 min – around 200-270 cal (depending on your effort)
  • Resistance training for 45 min – 200-350 cal
  • Swimming 1 hr – 350-500 cal

To put it in perspective – 1 oatmeal raisin cookie from Starbucks is 380 cal, while a cinnamon sticky bun from Whole Foods (aka ‘healthy’) is astounding 700 cal! You’d need to run a couple hours to burn that indulgence off!

There’s also a known ‘reward’ phenomenon – people who exercise tend to praise themselves with food-goodies for being ‘good’ as they exercised, thus undoing any weight loss attempts through exercise.

Now as a part of well-planned, goal-oriented, strategized and adhered to weight loss plan (I call it Weight Loss Project Management), exercise can be a tremendously helpful tool! If a person is following an 1800 cal plan, tracking their intake, a 200 cal burnt at the gym will definitely contribute to overall efforts, leading to a greater loss.

Indirect effects of exercise

Studies have shown that people who exercise are more likely not only to lose more weight, but to keep it off. This is where indirect effects of exercise come into play:

  • Exercise builds muscle (not necessarily the body-builder type, but definitely makes them more dense and stronger), which are more metabolically active and require more energy (calories) than fat. Even in the absence of fat loss, gaining muscle will lead to a better lean body mass/ to fat ratio and higher daily energy needs (read – you can eat more and maintain your weight)
  • Exercise is one of the best treatments for depression, anxiety, moodiness and just feeling down. It promotes release of happy hormones, which in turn effect your mood. It rushes your blood throughout your body, delivering those happy chemicals and other useful elements (like nutrients) to your tissues. People feel elated, carefree and happier after a bout of favored exercise. The trick here is to choose the type you enjoy, so you don’t feel like it’s a chore, which will inevitably turn you off of it eventually. I like to think of my favorite types of workouts like this: if I feel better after my workout than before, I’ll do it over and over again, to get my ‘high’
  • Statistically, people who exercise regularly, tend to make healthier dietary choices. They choose exercise as one of the components of their health pursuit. It’s a win-win – exercise motivates you to eat better, and eating better motivates you to exercise! Just try, and see if it works, I bet you’ll be thinking twice before impulsively choosing a fast-food lunch after a 45 min spin class, or whatever other workout rocks your boat (and your bottom!)
  • Exercise has proven to be a very effective tool to prevent/avoid/manage and even reverse some medical conditions (even without any fat loss – yes, you can be fat and fit, proving the Health at Every Size movement; don’t let your size get in the way of becoming more active for better health):
    • Cardio-vascular health is improved with exercise
    • Type 2 diabetes is prevented/reversed with exercise (particularly strength and resistance training types – weight bearing , like with dumbbells, resistance bands, gym machines, etc.)
    • Osteoporosis and osteopenia are prevented with weight bearing exercise in women. As women age, they are at higher risk of having brittle bones and fractures, therefore it is very important to do any type of weight resistance stuff, and the earlier – the better (yet never too late to start!)

How to be more active daily

Some people tend to move less throughout the day if they did any type of workout that day, so actual exercise is not the only way to get healthier or lighter through movement. The sum of our total daily activities counts way more than a single workout. If you choose to take the stairs (even just 3 flights a few times a day as you go to get something from your car or buy lunch at a joint downstairs), or taking 10 min walking breaks/phone calls, or walking your dog, or parking further from your destination (weather permitting), or waking up 15 min earlier to use those minutes for a gentle am stretch, even doing any sort of house work – will all add to your daily burn and help you get healthier, happier and maybe lighter (if needed)!

#exercise #weightloss #workout #diet #nutrition #nutritionist 

3 thoughts on “How much exercise do we really need?

    1. For sure, Mirja! Most people think of exercise as something painful and grueling, and that it should take at least an hour to have any effects. I think emotional wellness, elicited by exercise is not publicized enough. And it doesn’t have to be hard or long – it just has to be fun and involve movement.


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