No matter who you ask (except for the companies selling “magic bullet” supplements) about losing weight, the answer will always include the word “exercise”. It is now finally a widely accepted fact that proper and healthy weight loss comes through a combination of both diet and physical activity, but just how much of the latter is necessary?
The answer is dynamic rather than static. It lays on a perpetually sliding scale depending on both your goals and current situation. Whether you are far from your weight loss goals or already firmly there, you should absolutely be exercising. How much is necessary for every stage tends to vary.
Distant From your Goals
If you are nowhere near your weight loss or fitness goals, you should be exercising on a very regular basis. Perform cardiovascular exercise 3-5 times a week at mild to medium intensities.
You are looking to shed pounds quickly and efficiently, and chances are good that you’ve only recently started your weight loss program. If so, this is when you can experience the fastest gains (i.e. before your metabolism adjusts accordingly).
If you are also lifting weights or performing resistance exercises, you need not start at an intense pace. If you are a beginner to weightlifting, then ease your way in with light weights and low reps. Your number one goal is to avoid injury here, which will discourage you and possibly set you back weeks or months.
Seeing Gains, but Not Quite There
Say you’re 30-60% of the way and your exercise regimen has now become routine. Now is the time to focus on exercises that you enjoy and are proficient at. You have likely used trial and error to find what workouts and intensities suit your lifestyle and schedule and which do not.
This would then be your first step in making exercise a lifestyle rather than just an acute phase. You should be exercising just as frequently and at similar intensities as the first phase, but cardiovascular exercise should now come much easier. Increase your time or up the speed on the treadmill when you are ready. Many people hit a plateau here that requires an extra push to move past.
If you’re also lifting weights or performing resistance exercises such as push-ups, increase the resistance level (for push-ups this can mean performing them on an incline). Once again, avoid anything that can cause injury. You are still not quite at your goal.
Once the Goals are Achieved
You’ve done it, but now what? Hopefully at this point, you will have learned what exercises you enjoy and are capable of performing. In order to maintain your fitness level, you will only need to perform cardio 2-4 times a week (more, of course, if you wish). Exercise at this point is a lifestyle. You are no longer performing it for some weight loss goal, but rather because you wish to stay healthy and keep the weight off.
If you have been lifting weights and have seen muscle gains, you will need to keep lifting in order to maintain them. Luckily, you will only need to perform resistance exercises about once a week to hold on to them.