Updated: May 27, 2020
When it comes to weight loss, exactly how long do you need to workout per day in order to achieve your goals? We're all busy with jobs, kids, travel and personal obligations, so answering this question is key for achieving long term results.
Well, you may be surprised to hear that working out isn't actually NECESSARY for weight loss, but it doesn't mean you should be avoiding it either. Today I'm sharing all the science-y deets on what it means to exercise, how much of it you need to be doing and the best workout SCHEDULE in order to achieve your weight loss goals 🤓
First, Let's Define "Work Out"
This may seem like a silly activity, but everyone appears to have a different definition of what it means to work out. In order to figure out the best schedule, we first have to determine what exercise IS in the first place.
If you walk 20,000 steps a day but don't do any strength training, are you exercising? Or what about on the flip side. If you never walk, run or bike and you do daily weight training, is this working out?
The literal medical definition is:
"Exercise is physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive for the purpose of conditioning any part of the body. Exercise is used to improve health, maintain fitness and is important as a means of physical rehabilitation."
With this definition in mind, any form of movement done with the intention of taking steps toward your wellness goal IS exercise! Hiking, weight training, walking, running, HIIT, swimming... all are part of an exercise routine.
Why Exercise Doesn't REALLY Matter For Weight Loss
The concept of exercise being ESSENTIAL to achieve a weight loss goal all boils down to the calories in vs. calories out theory. Let me repeat - theory. In fact, this theory that weight loss comes down to calories in vs. calories out has a multitude of paradoxes that puts this theory into question.
Case in point, have you ever tried to lose weight by cutting calories? Did it work in the beginning and eventually you found it harder and harder to lose weight? That's what happened to the Biggest Loser contestants as they decreased their calories and therefore BMR - metabolism - to the point of possible irreparable damage. If reducing calories has the effect of reducing our metabolism, making it harder and harder to lose weight, then how can anyone ever expect to maintain the weight that they lost? That is - if it truly all does come down to calories in vs. calories out. I HIGHLY recommend that you check out THIS video for the hormonally based reasons why you could be gaining or losing weight.
Now with all of this in mind, using exercise to get into a state of "calorie deficit" isn't actually necessary for weight loss. Does this mean that you shouldn't exercise? Absolutely not. There are just different reasons for why you should.
The Perks of Exercise
Weight training helps to sculpt and tone your muscles and increase strength. Weight bearing exercise also helps to prevent osteoporosis, improve balance (vitally important as we age) and boost cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity. Steady state cardio such as walking and swimming has also been found to reduce your stress hormone cortisol. And as we know, consistently high levels of cortisol can hinder your weight loss goals (and lead to belly fat storage) as well as possibly have a negative effect on the hormone testosterone. Although incorporating some higher intensity endurance training can be beneficial for improving heart rate variability and overall fitness (think sprints and the occasional long run), excessive amounts has been found to increase cortisol as well.
When it comes to weight loss, as you begin to reduce your body fat percentage through Nutrition Strategies, your toned muscles from exercise start to become more pronounced. With all of this in mind - how do you actually take exercise into everyday life and reap the benefits while reducing the possible negative side effects of too much?
The Best Daily Exercise Schedule For Weight Loss
First let me be clear: everyone has a different ideal workout schedule in order to achieve their wellness goals. Particularly if you are very new to your wellness journey OR if you are an elite athlete. These two opposite ends will have much different approaches for their goals. The daily schedule that I'm discussing here is what I often use for my clients who have already utilized some exercise in their routine. Of course, this information is also not intended to replace medical advice, so make sure you consult your doctor, nutritionist and possibly your personal trainer before implementing the below.
From working with clients as well as with my own wellness goals, I have found that getting in exercise every day is key. You might find this contrary to my previous recommendations on decreasing exercise in order to balance hormones, but let me explain.
Remember that definition of exercise that I stated above? Walking falls within that category. In fact, walking (or steady state, low intensity swimming or cycling) is something that most of us aren't getting nearly enough of. Walking is also the easiest (and literally FREE) way to boost your activity level. You simply need to switch your perspective on walking and view it equally as prescriptive as a strength training routine. Because walking helps to reduce your stress hormone levels, it also can help to boost your fat burning and accelerate your Nutrition Strategies, too. And unlike strength training or high intensity interval training, you CAN implement walking everyday!
With my clients and myself, I have seen the best strengthening, toning and fat burning benefits when the following formula is implemented:
10,000+ steps per day
3-5 days of strength training per week (20-60 minutes per day)
1-2 days of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training - 10-30 minutes per day) per week
But the key to this formula is the daily steps. In fact, this is SO important, I created a full video on the most common walking mistakes that I see everyone making that is holding you back from achieving your wellness goals. You can check it out below.
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Autumn Elle Nutrition