Maintaining Weight Loss: How Much Exercise is Required?

By Mike Howard

So you’ve lost some of those extra pounds you’ve been carrying around since you started college/your career/a family/addiction to reality TV… Congratulations! Now get on that treadmill.. for an hour! A new (and not terribly surprising) study has shown that it takes about an hour a day to maintain at least a 10% weight loss. I’ll breakdown the study and offer some opinions/advice.

Study Breakdown

Participants: 201 overweight or obese women (BMI 27-40) age 21-45

  • Participants were assigned to 1 of 4 behavioral weight loss intervention groups
  • Groups were randomly assigned to groups based on caloric expenditure (1000 vs. 2000 kcal/week) and intensity levels (moderate vs. vigorous).

Results

Individuals sustaining a loss of 10% or more of initial body weight at 24 months reported performing more physical activity (1835 kcal/wk or 275 min/wk) compared with those sustaining a weight loss of less than 10% of initial body weight.

My Analysis

  • This is consistent with other research on the subject and corresponds with the National Weight Loss Registry’s observations regarding physical activity.
  • I don’t have access to the full study but if I did, I would see what kind of exercise people were assigned to and at what intensities they were working at.
  • I would also like to see if the exercise intensities made a difference in overall weight loss
  • Weight training doesn’t often appear to be prescribed in these kinds of studies, which is a shame as this would most likely make a difference in the results.
  • It’s difficult to say whether or not exercise was the sole factor in the success of the best maintainers. Those who maintained above 10% losses also adhered to better eating habits and engaged in more regular phone contact with the intervention team.

Take Home Message

  • Exercise is good
  • It takes more exercise to maintain weight loss than it does to lose it in the first place.
  • Try to engage in exercise daily, combining intentional exercise with lifestyle-based exercise (ie. walking more).
  • Within your intentional exercise sessions, try and push the intensity a little. Try interval training.
  • Resistance train. Try and partake in weight training at least twice per week and preferably 3.
  • Don’t stress too much about clocking exactly an hour of exercise per day. Just fit as much in as you feel comfortable with. Remember you can bump up the intensity and you won’t have to do as much. You may have to build your way up to even 15 minutes of activity. That’s okay – one step at a time.
  • Don’t have an extra hour a day? (You do, but that’s beside the point). Break it up into smaller chunks – it’s just as good.
  • On the “you do have time” thing – 1 hour is only about 4% of your entire day. After working and sleeping, you still have about 8 hours to work with. Even with obligations, cooking, cleaning, etc. most people would still be able to get some activity in. If you truly feel you have no time, where can you make time?
  • Don’t let complacency set in. Keep working at what you’ve achieved. Health is a lifelong process, not a destination.

Now stop reading this and do some wind sprints! (I’m timing you)

40 Comments

  1. sevenatenine

    QFT lol

    Reply
  2. sevenatenine

    @me
    No one expects you to do anything, what you do is your choice. But don’t spend time on the internet reading about fitness then complain that you don’t have time to exercise. If exercise is a priority then yes you will exercise after two shifts when your tired, it seems internet is enough of a priority for this, so just shift priorities a bit.
    Do you think the people working out at 5am because its the only time they can fit it in before working a 12 hour shift aren’t tired?
    There’s doing it, and there’s not doing it, as far as I’m concerned everything in between is just BS. If you want it, make it a priority and do it.

    Reply
  3. Matt

    100% in agreement, the conclusion of having to do more exercise to maintain your weight than to lose it is just the type of mis-information that scares people away from maintaining a healthy weight and leads them to failure.

    People, don’t put much faith in this study, it is bull. Simply do not eat more than your BMR plus your daily caloric expenditure and you will be fine.

    Poster of this article, get your facts straight before scaring people with nonsensical b.s.

    Reply
  4. Charles

    I think that dietary habits is a key missing ingredient in this study.

    I think a lot of people exercise so that they can eat what they want. So of course many people need to continue to exercise vigorously to maintain their weight loss.

    I eat so much better than I did when I was a young athlete, and I maintain my weight working out far less than I used to.

    Reply
  5. ravioli

    it does not take more exercise to maintain your new found weight. That makes no sense. When you’re losing weight, you’re creatng a calorie deficit, so you’re losing. Once you reach your goal weight, if you’re still on that exercise regimen, then you’ll keep losing weight, though at much slower levels since your body reaches a plateau. If it took more exercise just to maintain weight loss then we would all be huge! Losing weight is the hard part, maintaining it is easy, just make sure you change up your workout routine so your body doesn’t get used to it, otherwise it will burn less calories.

    Reply
  6. me

    As for the people who do have time, some suggestions would include the following:

    Walks with friends and/or relatives at least twice a week around a block or in a town would do some good.

    Try the no snacking every other day – exercise the days you do snack diet – it’s effective and fast working for most.

    15 minutes of jogging anywhere, any time.

    walking around whenever given chance works well.

    Reply
  7. me

    *busy

    Reply
  8. me

    Thats because a lot of people truly don’t have the time to work out. I hate how everyone thinks there’s enough hours in peoples busy work days to compensate for even 30 minutes to an hour of exercise. Some people such as the lower class work and work and work busy long days. Maybe even 2 jobs per day and when they get done, they are entirely worn out. What do you expect them to do? Exercise after hard, long shifts? That’s entirely absurd. If you ask me, it’s not all laziness – there’s a lot of buy people out there too. Just think about it.

    Reply
  9. XFactor Fitness

    This is an excellent topic. After reading several posts and the initial study…There are a few things that are interesting to me. There are a couple of aspects that effect our metabolism…first is how much cardio we do….how much resisitance training we do…and what our caloric intake is…There are several other factors…but these were the topics touched upon in the initial study.

    1. The more cardio you do…the more your body needs to get the same results…so too much cardio can be counter-effective

    2.HIIT(Intensity Interval Training) is in my opinion the best form of cardio. What the study didn’t tell you was what kind of cardio these individuals for partaking in.

    3. Cardio with no resistance training actually slows down your metabolism…if you are not lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance training along with your cardio…what you are actually losing is muscle and not necessarily fat…Muscle burns more calories then fat…so if you are losing muscle weight you are slowing down your metabolism.

    4.Now to maintain ones current weight…they can not exceed their total caloric needs…it really is that simple.

    I, like many of you was obesed. I at one time was 240 pounds on a 5’2″ frame. I lost 125 pounds and have kept it off for 7 years. I now look to help anyone and everyone I can to succeed in their weight loss battles. As I remember how it feels to be big. And I don’t wish that feeling on anyone. I put out a monthly newsletter called “get fit” it has essential tips and great recipes. Feel free to visit my site http://www.thexfactorfitness.com and opt-in to receive the newsletter. It is a newsletter that I give to all my clients. If there is anythng I can do for you guys here…please do let me know. You can contact me here or through my site. Good luck to all of you on your weight loss

    Reply
  10. Charles G

    Making the time to exercise is a problem for most people. What helps me is to combine exercise and radio/podcast listening (I have an exercise routine I do at home for about an hour 2 or 3 times a week; I set up my laptop with external speakers where I exercise). Before I exercise, I select the podcasts or programs I want to listen to. I have given up watching news on TV, which frees up a lot of time. I get much better news and analysis (commercial-free) by listening to NPR on my computer (go to npr.org). I use iTunes to search for podcasts I want to regularly download (there is an amazing amount of high quality stuff out there!). The rest of my exercise is done through lifestyle (or “spontaneous exercise”) such as walking or cycling to the store, etc.

    Reply
  11. Agriya

    Exercise is a very good habit, people who are all want to get a healthy life they have to do exercise daily exercise helps to be active, good blood circulation, good heart beat etc.,

    Reply
  12. Heather

    Peter, just so you know unless you have a medical reason there’s no need to artificially limit your intensity.

    First of all, you don’t burn more fat by exercising at 65% vs 75% — that is a myth. (You burn a higher percentage from fat, but what matters is Calories, and you burn more overall at the higher intensity.)

    Also, trying to operate off your MHR is flawed unless you’ve actually had your MHR tested. The 220-age, or even the adapted formulas, can be very inaccurate– and have shown 30 beats per minute variations between estimate and actual in people regularly. That’s why it’s best to use RPE in conjuction with heart rate to get a full picture.

    Now, I’m a big fan of doing what works for you… what you like and will do consistantly is absolutely the best exercise. However, I saw the “fat burning zone” comment and wanted to clarify to make sure you aren’t holding yourself back because of some myth you heard.

    Reply
  13. Peter Fleming

    I think a heart rate monitor is helping me. I stay in my fat burning zone of 60-70% of maximum. I also think cycling is good as it is low impact.
    This article has encouraged me and I see my ex Royal Marine personal trainer today. If he doesn’t scare me into weight loss no one will!

    Reply
  14. Gabrielle

    Am I correct in my analysis of this study that there were two variables being tested? That does subtract from the strength of the conclusion, but it probably couldn’t be helped.
    Exercise is needed to maintain weightloss, of course it is. Exactly how much is going to vary between people, for many an hour a day is probably overkill. Still, it will hardly do any harm will it?

    Reply
  15. JimK

    “The key to long term weight loss is not chronically eating above your total daily energy expenditure.”

    Can we just start pasting this sentence in for like…everything that anyone ever says about dieting and exercise? Barring a unique medical condition, is it EVER not the exact, most correct and simplest answer?

    Reply
  16. Fran

    Mike, I just emailed it to you. I sent it from hotmail so if it doesn’t come up in your inbox, check your junk mail … hotmail is a bit crap like that.

    Reply
  17. RedPanda

    That makes sense. People who are healthy and work out a lot are very conscious of the effect food has on their workouts, their mood and their overall sense of well-being.

    Anyway, I have to log off and get dressed for my hike!

    Reply
  18. RedPanda

    My experience has been similar to Spectra’s. I’ve maintained a 90-pound loss (40 % of my body weight) for nearly five years. I exercise less now than I did to lose the weight, but now that I’m a lot fitter I exercise far more intensely.

    And yeah, I watch very little TV.

    Reply
  19. Spectra

    I definitely know that exercise has helped me maintain my weight loss for the long-term. I don’t know if I have to necessarily exercise MORE to maintain my weight loss than I did in the initial loss, but I do exercise more intensely now than I did before. I also do cardio for about an hour (sometimes more) 6 days a week, plus strength training. And if that sounds like a lot of time, it really isn’t…I just don’t watch as much TV as some other people, I guess. It’s all about priorities…if it’s important to you, you’ll make time for it.

    Reply
  20. NeoVitin

    Most of us would like to believe that weight loss is a one time deal. We have to exercise and eat right for a little while, and we will lost weight and keep it off. Unfortunately, sustained weight-loss requires a lifestyle change, and it takes a lot of focus, and a strong commitment.

    Reply
  21. figsandolives

    they are assuming the subjects were eating the SAME calories as when they first started i.e. when they were heavier.. remember, you should be eating fewer calories when you lose weight.

    But it will definitely take MORE exercise tom maintain if calories in are not adjusted… that’s my take.

    Reply
  22. Claire P.

    I don’t understand why it would take more exercise to keep it off than to lose. Can’t you just figure out the number of calories to maintain, and then eat that? I mean, I exercise on a regular basis for my health, but I sure don’t do an hour a day. It’s just confusing to me how people seem to think you have to starve and exercise like crazy to maintain a weight loss. I haven’t found that to be true. Perhaps if you cut calories too much and damaged your metabolism…

    Reply
  23. blah

    Yoni Freedhoff took a look at the data and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the exercise that directly led to keeping the pounds off, but the fact that those who exercised the most also ate the least:

    Looking more carefully at the data we can see that on a weekly basis the folks who exercised the most burned only 1,145 more Calories than the folks who exercised the least (illustrating that exercise really doesn’t burn boatloads of Calories given that to burn those additional Calories those folks on average exercised 3.5 hours more a week). That’s only an average of 163 Calories more burned daily – not much to write home about.

    No, for me the story is elsewhere in the data.

    Looking at those who exercised the most, on a daily basis they were consuming 444 Calories less than those exercising the least. Extrapolating that and those folks were eating 3,108 fewer Calories a week! That’s almost a full pound of Calories less a week! They also had much better scores on an eating behaviour inventory meant to assess weight control eating behaviours.

    Translation?

    The folks who exercised the most, ate the least and controlled their eating the best and in fact the magnitude of their dietary interventions at 24 months were 3 fold higher in Caloric impact than their exercise interventions.

    My conclusion?

    Exercise works and is integral to most for weight maintenance, but not via its direct Calorie burning capacity (which is small), but rather through its remarkable ability to cultivate healthy attitudes about weight management and in so doing, support dietary restraint and thoughtfulness for the long run.

    http://bmimedical.blogspot.com/2008/07/is-exercise-necessary-for-weight.html#comment-form

    If he is correct, then it seems that many who are reporting on this study have not been drawing the right conclusions.

    Reply
  24. DR

    What I found most interesting about this study was that the women who exercised the most were also eating the least. On average, they ate 444 less calories than the women who exercised the least.

    http://healthhabits.wordpress.com/2008/07/29/exercise-how-much-is-enough/

    After crunching the numbers, this group was eating 3108 less calories per week than the slacker group. And then when you add in the fact that they were also burning 1100 more calories per week, itโ€™s no surprise that they did better than their chubby sisters.

    Reply
  25. Regina Wilshire

    Thankfully the morning after the top of my foot started to feel numb and I was experiencing ‘foot drop’ my husband got me into a neurologist (colleague of his) who did nerve conduction tests and electromyography (EMG)…determined the nerve was stressed, not terribly damaged yet, and immediately had me cast for the brace and had me in a temporary one same day….good thing too, since I found out that what I’d planned to do (wait a few days, maybe a week, to see how it was before going to the doctor) is what causes more damage usually – since I was braced immediately it was hoped that I’d have no more than six weeks of recovery (unlike some who need to stay in the brace a year to 18-months and then sometimes still need surgery)….I’ve been in it about 4-weeks now and it’s pretty much healed up already, I’m just keeping the brace on until my appointment as ‘ordered’ by the doc….once he gives the green light I can keep it off, it’s off!

    And yeah, bonus – no more doing the floors! WooHoo!

    Reply
  26. Mike H.

    Hi Fran! I would love to take a look. Could you email it to me if it’s not too much trouble?

    coreconcepts@shaw.ca

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  27. Mike H.

    I think that’s great and goes to show there are different roads towards success. I think keeping active doing “fun” things instead of “structured” is fantastic – especially if it gets you to the same place.

    That’s an unfortunate injury – how’s the recovery going? Is it an entrapment? Are you going to wait it out or are you condsidering a decompression surgery?

    On the bright side, at least “no scrubbing floors” is part of the treatment plan ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  28. Regina Wilshire

    You’re welcome…if you need the PDF of the full-text, email me, OK? The graphs and graphics are really interesting to see!

    Reply
  29. Mike H.

    Thanks for that breakdown Regina!

    Reply
  30. Regina Wilshire

    It takes more exercise to maintain weight loss than it does to lose it in the first place.

    As an “n of 1” take it for what it’s worth – since 2001 I’ve maintained an 80-pound weight loss (30% loss of body weight baseline) – gained in pregnancy and lost again – and didn’t and don’t have a specific formal exercise routine, did not include exercise to lose the weight and have not specifically included exercise to maintain the weight loss. Seven years later, I can say that for me, I have not had to exercise more to maintain weight than I did to lose the weight.

    That said, I am fairly active…and was when I started my weight loss – but what I do today for active “fun” isn’t really all that different than what I did when I was 80-pounds heavier…..it’s not as tiring to be active now, but the level of activity isn’t really all that different, it’s just easier when you’re not as heavy.

    Recently I started some resistance training (3x a week), not for weight maintenance or loss, but just because the data is good that it’s good for you. Sadly though, I’m now on a hiatus with that since I’m in an AFO brace since I somehow managed to injure my peroneal nerve in my left leg…..not from the resistance training, but from scrubbing my floors! LOL

    Reply
  31. Jade

    #It takes more exercise to maintain weight loss than it does to lose it in the first place#
    It sounds scarry for me, if it is true. But, I wish it would not be true – I want to maintain my weight loss, but I am not going to spend some more time exercising.

    Reply
  32. Trent

    I think the things that helped me maintain weight loss were:

    – I learned to like water. I also try to run before dinner, which makes me want to drink more and not eat as much.

    – I learned to differentiate between true hunger (which is painful) and false hunger (“Hey, I’m watching a movie…wouldn’t it be great to be eating, too?”).

    – Improved my eating habits overall. I eat very little pre-made food. Most of my intake is cereal for breakfast, sandwich and apple for lunch, and usually chicken w/ frozen-veggies for dinner.

    – Indulge every once in awhile. I go to a sushi buffer every other week. Knowing that I have that to look forward to makes the other stuff easier.

    Reply
  33. Fran

    I have database access through uni and just looked up the article – interesting reading. I saved it – if you’re interested, I can mail you the PDF, leave a comment if you’d like.

    Reply
  34. Regina Wilshire

    Vigorous Intensity/High Duration

    Baseline 87.4kg [energy intake = 2096 calories]
    6 months 77.9kg [energy intake = 1454 calories]
    12 months 78.3kg
    18 months 80.1kg
    24 months 81.6kg [energy intake = 1454 calories]

    Maximum weight loss at 6-months [-9.5kg]; weight rebound of +3.7kg over 18-months.

    Moderate Intensity/High Duration

    Baseline 87.9kg [energy intake = 2147 calories]
    6 months 79.7kg [energy intake = 1551 calories]
    12 months 79.6kg
    18 months 81.5kg
    24 months 83.2kg [energy intake = 1553 calories]

    Maximum weight loss at 12 months [-8.3kg]; weight rebound of +3.6kg over 12-months

    Moderate Intensity/Moderate Duration

    Baseline 87.4kg [energy intake = 2039 calories]
    6 months 80.1kg [energy intake = 1551 calories]
    12 months 80.9kg
    18 months 82.7kg
    24 months 83.9kg [energy intake = 1689 calories]

    Maximum weight loss at 6 months [-7.3kg]; rebound of 3.8kg over 18-months

    Vigorous Intensity/Moderate Duration

    Baseline 87.9kg [energy intake = 2200 calories]
    6 months 80.4kg [energy intake = 1551 calories]
    12 months 81.0kg
    18 months 82.6kg
    24 months 85kg [energy intake = 1628 calories]

    Maximum weight loss at 6 months [-7.5kg]; weight rebound 4.6kg over 18 months

    Reply
  35. Ali from TheOfficeDiet

    Great take homes, Mike. I found that cycling for 45 mins a day, and going to the gym for a 45 min session 3 times a week, worked well for me.

    The only times I’ve consistently lost weight and maintained the loss, I’ve done at least an hour’s exercise a day … but I think this is partly because when I’m exercising, my food choices tend to be healthier. (I tell myself “All that sweating in the gym will be wasted if I scoff a giant chocolate bar…” ;-))

    Reply
  36. Star Slim

    I’ll breakdown the study and offer some opinions/advice.

    Reply
  37. Barry

    Total garbage.

    I went from 210 to 165. I sure as hell don’t do cardio seven days a week.

    For a long time I only lifted weights three times a week. I’ve only added some HIIT jump roping on off days to see how it impacts my physique.

    The key to long term weight loss is not chronically eating above your total daily energy expenditure.

    If you can stand the hunger you don’t have to do ANY exercise, though for other obvious reasons I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Staying fit is easy and should never take up more than three hours of your time each week. If it does you’re either doing something wrong or you’ve got super human goals.

    Reply
  38. Ed

    Excellent post.

    It’s really a shame that studies like this even need to be done, yet all too often in this age of “I don’t have time to workout” and “Lose all the weight you want with this pill” people are getting lots and lots of bad information.

    On a side note, I recently wrote an article smashing the “I don’t have time to workout” excuse to bits (plus lots of other helpful articles).

    Check it out here:
    http://www.fatlosstogo.com/How_To_Lose_Fat_If_You_Don%27t_Have_Time_To_Workout.html

    Ed

    Reply
  39. Steve Parker

    I’d have more time to exercise if I stayed off the Internet.

    -Steve

    Reply