If you want to lose a single pound of weight by exercise alone, you'll need to get quite a bit of exercise. You'll also need to make sure you don't eat more than you usually would or you'll need to get even more exercise.
How much exercise you need to lose 1 pound depends on your weight, the exercise you choose and how vigorously you work out.
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In order to lose 1 pound, you need to burn 3,500 calories with exercise. The exact amount of exercise needed depends on the specific activity and your intensity level.
Do the Math
To lose 1 pound of body weight, you'll need to burn an extra 3,500 calories. So to lose 1 pound a week, you could aim to do a daily workout that burns about 500 calories.
Burning about 1,000 extra calories per day through exercise would help you lose about two pounds per week. Losing weight and limiting the risk of regaining this weight often requires at least an hour of exercise per day, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Boost Your Intensity
The more vigorously you exercise, the more calories you'll burn. Dancing, calisthenics, walking at 4 miles per hour and mowing the lawn while pushing a power mower, all burn about the same number of calories per minute, according to Harvard Health Publishing. These are all relatively moderate-intensity exercises.
You'll burn twice as many calories per minute by running at 6 miles per hour, because of running's increased intensity level. Jumping rope, doing taekwondo or high-impact step aerobics, cycling at least 16 miles an hour, playing handball and swimming laps vigorously are among the better ways to burn a lot of calories quickly through exercise.
For example, someone who weighs 125 pounds burns 600 calories an hour doing high-impact step aerobics; a 155-pound person burns 744 calories per hour; and a 185-pound person burns 888 calories per hour.
On the other hand, walking at 4 miles per hour only burns 270 calories per hour for a 125-pound person, 334 calories per hour for a 155-pound person and 400 calories per hour for a 185-pound person.
Consider the Calories
The more you weigh, the more calories it takes for you to do a particular exercise, so heavier people burn more calories in the same amount of time than lighter individuals.
For example, according to Harvard Health Publishing, a 185-pound person would burn 532 calories in an hour of using the stair stepper machine or by doing vigorous weight lifting, but a 155-pound person would only burn 446 calories and a 125-pound person would only burn 360 calories.
Thus, a 185-pound person would need to exercise for an hour a day for about seven days to lose 1 pound doing one of these exercises, but it would take the 125-pound person about 10 days of exercising for an hour a day. It is also important to consider that the 125-pound person may not have much excess weight to lose.
Playing handball or bicycling at 16 miles per hour would burn about the same number of calories in about half the time, but it would take about twice as long to burn these calories if you choose to get your exercise by playing Frisbee, bowling, playing water volleyball or by slow dancing.
Don't Depend on Exercise Alone
Typically, exercise on its own isn't very effective for weight loss. Only about 2 percent of study participants on the National Weight Control Registry who lost weight and kept it off for at least a year did so through exercise alone.
An article published in Obesity Reviews in September 2013 notes that people tend to lose less weight than predicted through exercise, mostly because people don't exercise as much as they need to and may compensate for the increased exercise by eating more or by getting less non-exercise activity, thus minimizing the calorie deficit they're creating.
Consider This Alternative
A study published in Systematic Reviews in October 2014 found that a combination of diet and exercise was best for weight loss and that dieting was more effective than exercising for people who opt to use only one of these methods.
Another study, published by Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in October 2014, had similar results, noting that in the short term, dieting alone and dieting plus exercise appeared to be about equally effective — but in the long term, the combination of diet and exercise yielded better results.
So you may be better off trying to cut 500 calories from your diet each day, along with getting about an hour of aerobic exercise. Don't forget strength training, as this can increase muscle mass and metabolism so you'll burn more calories, even when you aren't exercising.
Try to fit in at least two strength-training workouts per week, including a number of exercises to target all major muscle groups.
- American Council on Exercise: "Caloric Cost of Physical Activity"
- Systematic Reviews: "Impact of Long-Term Lifestyle Programmes on Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight/Obese Participants: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis"
- Obesity Reviews: "Why Do Individuals Not Lose More Weight From an Exercise Intervention at a Defined Dose? An Energy Balance Analysis"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Diet or Exercise Interventions vs. Combined Behavioral Weight Management Programs: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Direct Comparisons"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- National Weight Control Registry: "NWCR Facts"