Physical Activity for Weight Loss
Physical activity increases the amount of energy (calories) you burn. Most weight-loss programs incorporate an exercise program—such as jogging or biking. And you can also use more energy by changing some of your routine activities, such as washing your car yourself instead of going to a car wash. Choosing social activities that increase activity, such as joining a gardening club or dancing, also increases the calories you burn.
Strength training, which builds muscle, is also an important part of weight-loss programs. Having more muscle will help you burn more calories throughout the day. Lifting weights in a supervised program is one way to do this. Other ways to improve your strength may involve slight changes to some daily activities. Check with your doctor about strength training that is right for you.
Always have a medical evaluation before starting any new physical activity. If you have chest pain or dizziness during any physical activity, stop and call your doctor.
If you have not exercised much in the past, your doctor might first recommend a small amount of daily aerobic activity. For weight loss, though, experts advise doing moderate activity for at least 5 hours a week. Try for 60 to 90 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. And you can choose to do one or both types of activity: exercise programs and/or aerobic activities.
Aerobic exercise is used in weight-loss programs. It burns calories and increases the amount of oxygen that is delivered to your muscles. Any activity that raises your heart rate and keeps it up for an extended period of time will improve your aerobic conditioning. You can exercise at one time or throughout the day, whichever is most convenient. For example, you could walk for 10 minutes at one time and garden for 20 minutes later on, which would give you 30 minutes of activity for the day.
Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Brisk walking, jogging, walking on a treadmill, or riding a stationary bike.
- Skating or cross-country skiing.
These routine activities can help you burn calories:
- Washing and waxing a car.
- Raking leaves or shoveling snow. (Don't use a blower!)
- Washing windows or floors.
- Pushing a child in a stroller.
You can also "sneak" in activity throughout your day.
- Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
- If you need to run an errand within a few blocks, walk.
- Park the car some distance from your destination so you have to walk farther.
- If you watch television, get up and change the channels instead of using the remote control.
When you choose an exercise program or physical activity, pick something you like. Don't pick what looks easiest, what your friends do, or what the fad is. If you enjoy your activity, it will be easier to do and you will be more likely to stay with it. Also think about whether you would rather have convenience or companionship while being physically active. Some people want something they can do anytime with little hassle. Examples include a treadmill in the home, going for a walk in the neighborhood, or gardening. Others might prefer companionship, which means scheduling times with others. Very often when you share your activity with someone, you keep each other on schedule.
Exercising when you have other health problems
People who are overweight or obese often have other health problems and may be afraid or find it difficult to exercise. These people can still exercise safely.
- Talk with your doctor or a physical therapist about how your condition limits your exercise and bothers you while you exercise. He or she will be able to help you find other types of exercise.
- If you have coronary artery disease, you may need someone to monitor your exercise. Many hospitals have special programs in this case. For more information, see the topic Cardiac Rehabilitation.
- If you have arthritis or another joint disease, exercises that are not weight-bearing may be easier and less painful. These include swimming, water aerobics, and cycling.
For more information on physical activity and fitness, see the topic Fitness.
Current as of: February 28, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.