How Much and What Type of Exercise Do You Need to Do to Lose Weight?

Published August 3rd, 2021 by Anita Tee
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley
Medically Reviewed:
Erik Rivera

Taking part in physical activities is a great way to lose weight. Alongside a healthy eating plan, exercise can be one of the most effective ways to burn more calories and improve body composition.

When you exercise, your body needs more fuel to create the energy you need to perform at a higher intensity than you would if you were sedentary. This extra demand for fuel is how the body uses its stores of energy more effectively, and how you can burn excess fat.

Losing weight as a result of including exercise into your daily routine does depend somewhat on the type and intensity of the exercise you’re doing. Higher intensity exercise will naturally burn more calories than a lower intensity exercise but, you can also burn more energy at a lower intensity if the exercise is longer in duration. To understand how the body uses fuel as energy and how long you’d need to work out to make exercise count, you need to understand the difference between anaerobic and aerobic metabolism.

What is anaerobic and aerobic metabolism? 

Anaerobic metabolism is the metabolic process that takes place in the absence of oxygen1. It’s the way the body makes fuel and energy available when you work out at a higher intensity, for example, when you’re running sprints and you’re not able to take in enough oxygen as a result of rapid and shallow breathing. 

Aerobic metabolism, on the other hand, is the process of energy production in the presence of oxygen. When you’re doing a lower intensity, or longer, more endurance form of exercise, like when you go for a long slower run, for example, and you’re able to match your body’s oxygen demands by taking in enough breaths. 

Anaerobic metabolism is one of the primary ways your body uses the fuel it gets from carbohydrates when you need a quick burst of energy. It is the way your body gets that boost to be able to run or cycle sprints, or to lift heavy weights, and it’s through the formation of lactic acid. 

You may know that lactic acid can lead to sore muscles after a particularly intense bout of strenuous exercise. It’s because of the build up of lactic acid in an anaerobic state but, lactic acid is also a source of fuel the body uses when it runs out of the necessary supply of oxygen to support the intensity of the exercise you’re doing. 

While anaerobic metabolism is not as efficient as aerobic metabolism, incorporating both aerobic and anaerobic types of exercises into your overall workout routine is the most effective way to exercise and burn fuel as energy3

Types of anaerobic and aerobic exercises for weight loss

Aerobic exercise:

Any type of exercise that you can maintain at a steady breathing pattern and heart rate would be considered aerobic exercise. Examples include:

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Elliptical training
  • Brisk walking
  • Rowing 

These exercises burn calories at the time of exertion and also contribute to your overall fitness levels or cardiovascular fitness. The longer you perform these aerobic exercises, the more calories you burn and the fitter you become.

Anaerobic exercise:

These types of exercises would include any exercises that are high in intensity, or that place greater demands on the body for a short duration of time. The calories you burn during these exercises really depends on the duration that you perform them. Many of them also tend to improve muscle strength and mass, which further improves lean body mass and a toned physique many of you are looking for. Examples of anaerobic exercises include:

  • Weight lifting
  • Jumping rope
  • Run or cycle sprints
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT) 

The more you train under anaerobic states, the better the body becomes at utilizing the anaerobic processes required for energy. 

How much should you exercise?

According to the government guidelines, the minimum required amount of exercise you need to perform per week to maintain health is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise. You can also combine moderate and vigorous intensity exercises across the course of the week to gain both the benefit of engaging your aerobic and anaerobic metabolism4.

According to some sources, aiming for at least 200 minutes a week can help you to lose weight, which equates to around 3-4 days of 1-hour long training sessions, typically of a moderate intensity5. If you prefer shorter workouts, or that’s all you have time for, you’re likely better off working out at a higher intensity for a shorter time each day - for approximately 35-40 minutes - only taking 1 day of rest in between.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) further suggests that you should include at least 2 days worth of strength training sessions into your routine every week6. These may include working with weight or using your own body weight to build muscle. Additionally, it is recommended that you try to include routines that target all major muscle groups in the upper body and lower body, as well as the core each week. 

Remember that these are guidelines as set out for the majority of the population. If you’re just starting out and new to an exercise routine, working out at a more vigorous intensity for 5-6 days a week may be too strenuous on your body and leave you at risk of injury or exercise burnout. Instead, you could start off by including the minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week and building up the time and intensity as you get stronger and fitter. 

Taking action

No matter your preference for the type or intensity of exercise, the key takeaway is that any form of exercise, performed at least for the minimum requirements as suggested by government guidelines for each week, and done consistently will help you to reach your weight loss goals.

References and Sources:

  1. Ghosh AK. Anaerobic threshold: its concept and role in endurance sport. Malays J Med Sci. 2004;11(1):24-36.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Aerobic Exercise. 2019. 
  3. Patel H, Alkhawam H, Madanieh R, Shah N, Kosmas CE, Vittorio TJ. Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system. World J Cardiol 2017; 9(2): 134-138
  4. American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults. (2017).
  5. Sarnataro, B. WebMD What kind of exercise -- and how much -- is best when you're trying to lose weight?
  6. Battista, R., et al. ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer. American College of Sports Medicine Series. 2017. 

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