Natural Weight Control | Health Blog

Date: 08/05/2008    Written by: Jon Barron

Exercise at Least an Hour a Day to Lose Weight

Lose Weight Naturally

That half-hour power-walk, while virtuous, might not be enough to help you maintain weight loss, according to a recent study out of the University of Pittsburgh. The study followed 201 overweight and obese women between 1999 and 2003. All the subjects maintained a low-calorie diet, but some exercised for 30 minutes five days a week, burning 1000 calories each session. Others exercised for an hour five days a week, burning 2000 calories. After six months, the women in all the groups had lost eight to ten percent of their body weight -- but it didn't last. Two years later, most of the subjects had started climbing back up the scale, regaining three to five percent of their body weight. Only those who maintained an exercise regimen at the higher level of activity -- almost an hour a day (or 275 minutes a week) of moderate effort -- had managed to maintain a weight loss of 10 percent or more. The remaining subjects shed just half the amount of the hour-long exercisers by that time, despite continuing to exercise and diet.

John Jakicic, director of the study, said, "Short term, everyone [in the study] seemed to do well as long as they exercised. To sustain weight loss, exercise becomes more and more important. The best predictor of who kept the weight off was physical activity, but those people were still being pretty vigilant about their diets...This clarifies the amount of physical activity that should be targeted for achieving and sustaining this magnitude of weight loss, but also demonstrates the difficulty of sustaining this level of physical activity."

Indeed, based on statistics indicating seven out of 10 Americans don't bother to exercise at all -- a daily hour sets the bar pretty high. The women in this study had an extraordinary amount of support -- group meetings, telephone counseling, treadmills for the home, diet plans and reviews -- but in the course of normal life, few of us have such strong advocacy driving us to the workout room. Clearly, the knowledge that losing weight leads to longer life, fewer health issues, and better financial prospects simply isn't enough to inspire most people to quit the fries and start the treadmill.

Nor does that knowledge inspire the typical person to maintain a strict eating regimen. Just a few weeks, ago, I reported on another study that concluded that inactivity isn't as much a factor in obesity and weight gain as is overeating. That study found that we burn as many calories in the course of life these days as we did several decades ago, and yet obesity rates keep skyrocketing -- which points to food consumption as the culprit. As the director of that study, Klaas Westerterp, said, "Because we found no evidence for declines in energy expenditure over the last two decades, this work suggests that the obesity epidemic has been largely driven by increases in food intake."

I always say that weight maintenance is a simple matter of calories "in" versus calories "out" -- give or take some subtleties on how you get there. We now consume, on average, an extra 523 calories a day over what people typically consumed 28 years ago. Since we're taking in more calories, we need to exercise more to burn those calories off. It's simple math. In fact, to compensate for those 523 extra calories daily, you need to walk an extra 35 to 50 miles a week -- just to maintain your weight at its current level. At a peppy 20-minute per mile pace, that adds up to about an extra two hours of breaking a sweat every single day, seven days a week! And again, that's just to maintain, not to lose weight!

The current exercise recommendations put forth by the majority of health organizations tout 30-minutes a day as the magic health-inducing, weight-reducing formula. Perhaps 30 minutes would suffice if you're already at your ideal weight and you don't consume extra calories -- but again, statistics indicate that most of us eat way more than we need to. If you're already overweight, you absolutely need cut out those extra calories and exercise an hour daily in order to lose it. And if you continue to overeat, you need to exercise for hours on end to avoid getting any fatter.

The bottom line is that losing weight requires eating way less and exercising way more, plain and simple. Hey, if nothing else try shrinking your plate size. The average plate size has increased two inches over the last few years -- from an average diameter of 10 inches a dinner plate to 12 inches. I understand, two inches may not sound like a lot, but it increases the surface area of your plate from 78 to 113 inches. That's almost a 50 percent increase. That allows you to put 50 percent more food on your plate...and 50 percent more calories. No wonder you have to exercise an hour a day. Do yourself a favor and go back to 10 inch plates.


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    Submitted by Celina Mills on
    August 18, 2008 - 3:05am

    I continue to read articles and books stating that doing only short, 10 min burts of cardio 2 - 3 times a day, 4 days a week is enough to keep weight off. Is this true? Or do you really need to do 30 min of intense cardio 5 days a week minimum to keep the pounds off as you age. I find it very confusing....

    Submitted by David P. Morrow on
    August 5, 2008 - 6:41am

    Those are great tips. Plates that are too big and no exercise at all is a definite formula to get fat.
    That study is very interesting. Promoters of exercise usually try to 'sell it' as taking little time, or not needing to do much for results.
    While short periods of exercise are certainly better than none at all, short bouts of exercise for most will not be enough.
    Of course, there is the 'intensity' factor that can make all the difference in the world.
    I would really like to know what intensity level the subjects of this study were operating at. Based on the not very impressive weight loss results, I really doubt most of them were even sweating.
    You have got to get out of 'cruise control', and challenge yourself.

    Submitted by Deborah on
    August 19, 2008 - 4:47am

    Good article. Jon, you and my physician are in the same mindset. However, you're a bit more lenient than he. His suggestion to my weight issue.... don't eat. Then I received a 1200 calorie a day diet from him (for a brief period mind you). Well, I've not done so great over the past 14 months. But...I've enjoyed your article and other's comments. I believe I can do this less intake of food action. Thanks for the knowledge and inspiration. I'll pass it along.

    Submitted by Jon Barron on
    August 19, 2008 - 5:42am

    The problem with 1200 calorie a day diets is that they are unsustainable for most people. Also, the even bigger problem is that when you go low calorie for more than two days at a time, your body goes into starvation mode -- it learns to maintain its weight on fewer calories. Try doing the 1200 calorie diet every other day. That accomplishes two things. One, everyone can diet for one day at a time. Two, it prevents your metabolism from dropping. Note: That doesn't mean pig out on the non-diet days. Eat sensibly. Go for 1,600 calories. That's one third more food. But make sure you enjoy what you eat so you can do the 1200 calories again the next day. If you do that, then you're averaging only 1400 calories a day and should be able to lose close to a pound a week at that rate.

    Submitted by terri on
    August 18, 2008 - 1:44am

    I would recommend you try interval training for weight loss and fitness. When running you alternate between going very fast(sprinting) and then a slower pace and continue this for at least 30 minutes. You will see results!!!!

    Submitted by Thomas Hogg on
    August 17, 2008 - 4:59pm

    As a visitor to the USA I can say how astounded my wife and I have been at the sizes of American meals
    For example the ""World 's best "" deli (on Broadway I think) in NYC serves pastrami on rye sandwiches with pastrami about two inches thick
    We usually bought one and shared it between two and even then had some over we couldnt eat
    But we encountered similar gargantuan serves everywhere we went in the US
    This pattern is starting to emerge in our country Australia but not as noticeably so as in the USA
    So I am not surprised at Jon Barrons' paper reporting that Americans are consuming 523 more calories daily than 28 years ago

    Submitted by mperry48 on
    May 24, 2011 - 12:21pm

    I agree that eating fewer calories is a good start, but what we eat is also important. The person who decides to have a 250-calorie candy bar may skip vegetables and or other nutritious foods to keep his overall calorie count low. Most overweight people I know (including myself, in the past) eat a lot of "low-fat" processed junk high in starches and sugar, then wonder why the weight won't come off. Consuming starches and sugars cause ones insulin level to rise, which tells the body to store fat. My rotund friends eat a lot of processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, sausages, etc) and starchy foods like bread, french fries, mashed potatoes but not a lot of carrots, broccoli, spinach, or other nutritious fare. They don't skip dessert often, either. Eating smaller portions is a start, but what worked for me was simply "cleaning up" my diet. I cut back on the processed packaged foods and started eating more real foods. Sure, it's more inconvenient and time-consuming, but I look and feel so much healthier now.
    As for exercise, I have to agree with Terri, who recommends interval training. Short, intense interval workouts helped me avoid the "Chunky Fat Aerobics Instructor syndrome" (google Jennifer Portnick for an example). Additional weight training also helps me to keep the weight off.

    Submitted by Sherri on
    July 25, 2011 - 2:26pm

    I agree with mperry48. I was overweight due to what I was eating more than how much I was eating. I cut out white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and white rice. I added whole grains and more fresh vegetables and fruits. I've lost 20 lbs and I've added interval strength training to my exercise program. I exercise 5 days a week for 30 to 40 minutes per workout.

    Submitted by rezha on
    April 24, 2012 - 11:38am

    , stick with cardio/endurance stuff for now as it works beettr than just trying to diet alone. Sports are really good for that sort of thing too and for most people is also fun to do. Since summer is coming up, there will be baseball or softball to play.EDIT: Another thing to think about is don't fret if you don't drop weight quickly. It takes a while to start if you are on a healthy routine. Loosing weight too quickly (even if it is down to a healthy weight ) can cause a lot of problems. Nutritionists and doctors say it isn't healthy to loose more than 2 or 3 pounds in a week.

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