We've all heard about the benefits of exercise at this point — better mood, stronger heart and stamina, for starters. When you've set a new fitness goal, it can be hard not to give it your all. But if you exercise three hours a day, will it really help you lose weight? Probably not.
Three hours of exercise is too much for the average person. It's more likely to lead to burnout than sustained weight loss.
Spread It Over a Week
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends between two hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week to five hours of moderate exercise a week (think brisk walking or yard work) and less time for vigorous activity (like running or aerobic dancing).
But those guidelines are the minimum recommendation, which means you can do more exercise than that for potentially even greater health benefit.
Don't Get Burnout
It takes time to work up to regular, vigorous physical activity, and, as MedlinePlus notes, exercising too much can lead to burnout.
Burnout shows up as fatigue, depression, mood swings, injury and a host of other problems, none of which will ultimately benefit a weight-loss goal. Additionally, exercising at a high volume can be a symptom of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
Rest is a key part of even the most avid athlete's training plan. To put it in perspective, even at the height of marathon training, runners typically train five or six days a week, and rarely for more than an hour a day.
Serious athletes with performance goals might work up to three hours of exercise a day. But make no mistake — they also have to eat more in order to fuel that performance.
If your goal is weight loss, increasing your exercise can help you meet your goal. But three hours a day is likely overdoing it.
Increase Activity Slowly
Three-hour workouts won't always lead to burnout. You might find yourself doing the occasional three-hour hike or bike ride, or eventually working up to regular, long exercise plans. For example, marathon runners will work up to multi-hour, double-digit mile runs to prepare for a race event.
Additionally, you might spread exercise throughout the day — an hour jog in the morning, for example, and then yoga and tennis in the afternoon.
How Much Exercise Is Enough?
As mentioned, the HHS recommends a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week. That would be 50 minutes a day, three days a week.
If you're coming from a sedentary background, work toward that activity level. If you find you're already meeting that goal and feeling good, it's fine to increase the activity in your day.
That said, it's difficult to say for sure whether three days of activity — or any exact measure — will lead to weight loss. Genetics, diet, stress and many other factors play a role. MedlinePlus offers a breakdown of different physical activities and the number of calories they burn.
Even if you don't lose weight through exercise, physical activity has incredible health benefits, many of which are near immediate according to the HHS — improved anxiety, lower blood pressure and better sleep among them. Regular, moderate activity provides additional benefits, such as lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer, plus stronger bones and better mental performance.
The most important thing is to find an activity you'll want to stick with.