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The Best Aerobic Exercise for Weight Loss

author image Andrea Johnson
Andrea Johnson is a certified personal trainer and lifestyle and weight management consultant through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). She has a B.A. in biology from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn., and also a J.D. from the University of Minnesota. She began writing for various online publications after four years working as a personal trainer and wellness coach.
The Best Aerobic Exercise for Weight Loss
Photo Credit: Sean Murphy/Lifesize/Getty Images

Most people know that aerobic exercise is an important part of weight loss and overall health. Most people have also learned by now that the "Fat Burn" or "Weight Loss" setting on the elliptical machine is a mischaracterization. So what is the best method of aerobic exercise for weight loss? Quite simply, it's the one that burns the most calories; weight loss happens when the body burns more calories than it takes in. More specifically, however, the many variables that determine the efficacy of aerobic exercise for weight loss include frequency, intensity, duration, muscle engagement, variety and enjoyment. Find out how to construct an aerobic exercise program to encourage optimal weight loss.

Step 1

Dedicate yourself to at least five to seven aerobic exercise sessions per week. It takes burning 3500 calories to lose one pound. You can do that through reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories and burning 500 calories through cardio activities every day of the week. Each session should ideally be at least 30 minutes in length, but the optimal duration depends on the intensity of the workout. If you do not have time for a 30-minute workout, or 30 minutes is too difficult, remember that activity for any length of time is better than no activity, and do what you can.

Step 2

Incorporate both longer, moderate-intensity endurance workouts and shorter, high-intensity or interval workouts into your routine. Both types of exercise are beneficial for weight loss. Higher-intensity workouts burn calories faster, but workouts at a moderate intensity for a longer duration burn more calories from fat, lead to increased cardiovascular endurance and efficiency, and help avoid training plateaus. The key to getting the most out of moderate-intensity exercise is putting in the extra time to burn the same number of calories as a high-intensity workout.

Step 3

Choose activities that recruit more muscle. The more muscle mass you are using during a workout, the more calories you are burning. This is why most aerobic activities involve the major muscle groups of the legs. Simply using more muscle groups, however, does not necessarily translate to using more muscle mass. For instance, even though swimming uses muscles in the legs, arms and core, running burns more calories per minute because it recruits more muscle fibers overall. See the Harvard Health chart estimating the calorie burn for various activities.

Step 4

Add variety. Rotate between different activities or change up your interval patterns. Change your brisk walk into a walk/run. Walk fast for five minutes, then jog for 30 seconds to one minutes before resuming your brisk walk. If you continuously repeat the same exercise in the same way over a long period of time, your body will adapt to it, and you will need fewer calories to carry out that activity. Adding variety keeps your body challenged and burning maximum calories. It also helps prevent overuse injuries.

Step 5

Choose activities you enjoy. Successful weight loss demands perseverance and a commitment to a long-term lifestyle change, and quitting an exercise program for lack of enjoyment is a huge obstacle for many people. These tips are essentially useless if you dread your workouts. Don't be afraid to explore new activities, and work out with friends or family to keep your motivation up. Try new things like yoga or Pilates. Lift weights or use resistance bands or your own body weight.

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