When you want to lose weight, you want to burn the most calories in the least amount of time. Cardio workouts that use the large major muscle groups like the legs and core, and that force you to bear weight, are usually the most effective for weight loss. Ultimately, choose an exercise that you like so you are more likely to make it part of a regular routine. Vary your routine regularly to reduce the chance of injury and to keep your body from becoming too efficient at one modality which may result in a lower calorie burn.
Jogging and Running
Running burns a lot of calories because your whole body is involved in the activity. You may walk, jog or run indoors on a treadmill or outdoors on a track or trail. A person weighing 160 lbs. burns about 500 calories in one hour jogging at a manageable 12-minute-mile pace. To increase the calorie burn of your workout, jog uphill or break into a run. If that same 160-lb. person works his way up to 8 mph or a 7 1/2-minute-per-mile pace, he can burn almost 1,000 calories in one hour.
Walking is an easy alternative for people with arthritis, knee and back pain or for the obese. A 160-lb. person going 3 1/2 mph uses about 275 calories in an hour. Going faster will increase the calorie burn, as will including hills in the terrain. Members of the National Weight Control Registry -- a group of people who have lost an average of 66 lbs. and kept if off for at least one year -- report physical activity being key in their success. The members named walking as the most frequently used activity to aid weight loss.
Interval training -- alternating bouts of higher intensity exercise with more moderate periods -- effectively burns calories, reports a study in the journal “Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.” The 2008 issue quotes a study from the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph in Canada showing that participation in six weeks of interval training significantly increased fat oxidation and carbohydrate burn. These subjects alternated all-out cycling sprint-intervals lasting four minutes with moderate-intensity training for two minutes ten times in a session three times per week, but you can use any aerobic exercise you prefer. Try an elliptical machine, which offers low-impact movement akin to running, to push as hard as you can for one minute and then pedal comfortably for a minute. Alternate these intervals 10 to 15 times total. Over time, work your way up to two-minute intervals with one minute of rest, eventually duplicating the ratio of intervals used in the study.
According to “Fitness Magazine,” circuit training burns 30 percent more calories than following a traditional strength training routine that involves performing a set and then resting. A circuit routine involves multiple exercises performed in quick succession with little to no rest between them. A cardio circuit or a cardio-and-strength circuit keeps your heart pumping and tackles boredom that may come from running on the treadmill. A 140-lb. person may burn over 250 calories in just 30 minutes. To do a circuit at home -- or at the gym -- choose exercises like squats, walking lunges, mountain climbers, jumping jacks and jumping rope. Perform each for a minute and then repeat the circuit between three and five more times.