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The Best Aerobic Exercise for Weight Loss

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
The Best Aerobic Exercise for Weight Loss
The Best Aerobic Exercise for Weight Loss Photo Credit: Pablo_K/iStock/GettyImages

Of all the calorie-burning and fatigue-inducing workouts you can do, running at or near your top speed is the best for weight loss. Running at a sprinting speed burns more calories than other heart-pounding activities like cycling and stair climbing, although they're close behind.

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Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercises get your heart rate up, make you sweat and help you burn calories. Things like swimming, running, cycling and jumping rope are examples of aerobic exercise. They aren't short-burst activities like weightlifting, where you go all-out for a few seconds before resting.

Endurance activities are considered aerobic because your body is using oxygen as fuel. When it uses oxygen the exercise can't be too intense, or else your body will be forced to use things like glucose for energy.

You burn calories when you do an aerobic workout, but the amount of calories that you burn depends on how intense the activity is. For example, running burns more calories than walking, which means that running is better for weight loss.

Read More: How to Calculate METS From VO2


Scientists figure out how intense and activity is by measuring something called METs, which stands for the metabolic equivalent of a task. The number of METs tells you how intense an exercise is. One MET is equivalent to sitting on your couch, not participating in any activity.

A MET is calculated by the amount of oxygen that you consume when you workout. The more intense the activity is, the more oxygen you use the higher your MET score is. The higher your MET score is, the more calories you burn.

High MET Exercises

According to an article from ACE Fitness, running at 14 miles per hour can net you a score of 23 METs. To put that into perspective, that's twice as taxing as jumping rope. The only caveat is that running at 14 miles per hour is very taxing and most people can't sustain that pace. If you run at 14 miles per hour it'll take you around four minutes and 20 seconds to complete a mile.

Other aerobic exercises that take a lot of energy are cycling and stair climbing. Working out on a stairclimber machine at a fast pace can cost about 17 METs, which is almost equivalent to running at your top pace.

Cycling uphill costs about 14 METs. It's less intense than running because cycling isolates your legs much more. The fewer muscles you use in an exercise, the fewer calories you'll burn. Running is more of a total-body exercise because you pump your arms quickly and use your core muscles to twist your torso.

Cycling is another intense aerobic activity.
Cycling is another intense aerobic activity. Photo Credit: torwai/iStock/GettyImages

Exercise Intensity

The intensity of an activity also depends on how fit you are. Someone who isn't used to running can find running an eight-minute mile as challenging as a trained athlete running a five-minute mile. The key is to find what exercise is the most challenging for you. For most people, that will either be running or stair climbing.

While a high MET cost means that you're burning a lot of calories, it also means that you'll get tired faster and stop exercising. Depending on how long you work out, a lower-intensity activity can actually let you burn more calories because you can exercise longer.

For example, swimming has about half the MET cost of running at full speed. However, if you can swim for twice the amount of time that you can run at full speed, you'll burn the same number of calories.

Read More: Cycling & Weight Loss

Staying Motivated

The final challenge to losing weight with aerobic exercise is staying motivated. One workout doesn't give you all of the results that you want. You have to workout consistently over time to lose weight.

That means that you have to pick an activity that you enjoy doing often. Sports like tennis aren't as intense as running at full speed but some people might enjoy playing tennis more, which will make them more willing to exercise.

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