How much physical activity do I need to control my weight?

If you are watching and controlling your caloric intake, you can probably get away with the minimum recommendation of 150 min/week of what the government defines as physical activity of 3-6METS (see below for complete definitions). However, except for active athletes, according to the latest exercise/weight loss studies, exercise alone won’t control your weight or lead to weight loss, so if weight control is the goal, you must restrict/count calories and perform moderated exercise 3-5 days/week.


Physical Activity: any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles resulting in an expenditure of energy (calories). Any individually safe physical activity is better than none.

Metabolic equivalents (MET): 1 MET = the energy used by the body as you sit quietly, the harder the body works during the activity, the higher the METs (e.g. 2 METS is twice the energy spent sitting quietly). Any activity that burns 3-6 METs is considered moderate-intensity physical activity and is the level of activity the government chose to use in their current broad health recommendations.

Moderate-Intensity Activities (3-6 METS)

  • Walking briskly
  • Golf, pulling or carrying clubs
  • Swimming, recreational
  • Mowing lawn, power motor
  • Tennis, doubles
  • Bicycling 5-9 MPH, level terrain or with a few hills
  • Weight lifting, machines or free weights

Minimum exercise recommendations:

Note: these are minimum recommendations, greater health/weight control outcomes can be achieved by doing additional types of activities and/or increasing time spent doing activities

  • 5 or more days of the week if moderate-intensity activities (in bouts of at least 10 minutes for a total of at least 30 minutes per day); or
  • 3 or more days of the week if vigorous-intensity activities (for at least 20-60 minutes per session)

How much exercise you need is dependent upon a variety of factors, including your age, your metabolism, your weight, body composition, activity level, and your diet. The easiest way to calculate how much physical activity you need to control your weight is to increase your activity level until your weight remains constant or starts to decrease. There are a number of ways to measure and monitor physical activity that will help you track it. Monitoring devices like pedometers will keep track of the number of steps you take. Tracking steps and your weight each week will make it easy to calculate how much activity is needed to maintain your weight. Other monitoring devices like accelerometers like the exerspy will measure your steps plus your total accumulated activity and will give an accurate estimate of calories burned that day. These devices can be plugged into monitoring programs, which will record and track your activity level and calories burned daily and can also track weight. So long as your weight stays the same or goes down with your current level of exercise this is the correct amount to control your weight.    

If you are currently gaining weight it will be necessary for you to increase your activity level, and it may be necessary to decrease your caloric intake. Engaging in regular vigorous exercise will burn a large amount of calories both during and after exercise in the form of excessive post exercise oxygen consumption also known as EPOC. EPOC is an increased level of calorie burning after exercise due to the intensity of exercise requiring extra calories to help with recovery. After a bout of intense exercise, your body can continue to burn extra calories for up to several hours after.    

By combining any of these means of measuring activity with a monitoring of your weight you can easily figure out what is the right level of activity to maintain or lose weight.

The answer to this question depends on your level of calorie intake. In order to truly maintain your weight, your body needs to be in homeostasis (a balanced energy state). This means that your caloric expenditure (calories burned each day from physical activity, etc) should equal your calorie intake (total calories taken in thought food and drink).

If you really want to get dialed in, I would recommend doing two things:
1. Track your food each day. The more diligent and honest you are in this process the better because every little morsel counts. Nothing in the body gets a 'free ride'.
2. Purchase an exerspy. Which you can do here:

An exerspy is a fantastic device that will track how many calories you burn each day. They are extremely accurate and easy to use. It fits on the upper arm and is designed to be worn all day (you just can't get it wet). When your body burns calories it gives off heat as a byproduct. The exerspy has sensors that will measure this heat exchange and convert it into how many calories you have burned. If you would like more information regarding the exerspy please contact me.

I know what you are thinking, "but the cardio machine I use tells me how many calories I burn". Well I have some bad news. Typically, cardio machines grossly overestimate how many calories you burn. Without an accurate reflection of how many calories your burning in a day you cannot accurately determine how many calories you should be eating.

By tracking your food and using an exerspy, you can fine tune your physical activity levels to match your food intake. These tools are also great if you have a goal of losing or gaining weight as well!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.