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Physical Activity for Weight Loss - Topic Overview

Physical activity increases the amount of energy (calories) you burn. Most weight-loss programs incorporate an exercise program—such as jogging or biking. And you can also use more energy by changing some of your routine activities, such as washing your car yourself instead of going to a car wash. Choosing social activities that increase activity, such as joining a gardening club or dancing, also increases the calories you burn.

Strength training, which builds muscle, is also an important part of weight-loss programs. Having more muscle will help you burn more calories throughout the day. Lifting weights in a supervised program is one way to do this. Other ways to improve your strength may involve slight changes to some daily activities. Check with your doctor about strength training that is right for you.

Always have a medical evaluation before starting any new physical activity. If you have chest pain or dizziness during any physical activity, stop and call your doctor.

If you have not exercised much in the past, your doctor might first recommend a small amount of daily aerobic activity. For weight loss, though, experts advise doing moderate activity for at least 5 hours a week.1 Try for 60 to 90 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. And you can choose to do one or both types of activity: exercise programs and/or aerobic activities.

Exercise programs

Aerobic exercise is used in weight-loss programs. It burns calories and increases the amount of oxygen that is delivered to your muscles. Any activity that raises your heart rate and keeps it up for an extended period of time will improve your aerobic conditioning. You can exercise at one time or throughout the day, whichever is most convenient. For example, you could walk for 10 minutes at one time and garden for 20 minutes later on, which would give you 30 minutes of activity for the day.

Examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Brisk walking, jogging, walking on a treadmill, or riding a stationary bike.
  • Biking.
  • Swimming.
  • Rowing.
  • Skating or cross-country skiing.
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