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Regular exercise has been shown to help overweight individuals achieve and maintain weight loss. In addition to weight management, exercise has many health benefits including physical and cardiovascular fitness and a decreased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and other serious illnesses. To maintain weight and good health, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend regular, moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as walking, cycling, or jogging) for twenty to thirty minutes at least three times a week. To lose weight, they recommend at least 40 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week.

Research has found that dieters can lose as much weight with less strenuous exercise (such as brisk walking) as with more vigorous activities (like running). A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who reduced calories and exercised about 30 minutes daily for a year lost about 19 1/2 pounds with intense exercise and 18 pounds with moderate exercise. "Significant weight loss and improved cardiorespiratory fitness were achieved through the combination of exercise and diet during 12 months, although no differences were found based on different exercise durations and intensities in this group of sedentary, overweight women," the study authors conclude.

Muscles require more calories to metabolically maintain than fat, which means fit bodies burn more calories than overweight ones, even at rest. Research shows that a strength-training session can raise the metabolism by 5 to 10 percent. The ACSM recommend strength training two to three days a week, with exercises targeting each of the major muscle groups.

To lose one pound, you need to burn 3,500 calories. If you reduce 500 calories a day by cutting calories and increasing exercise, you can lose one pound weekly. You can achieve this by doing aerobic activities you enjoy such as walking, biking, jogging, dancing, and gardening. Incorporate exercise into your lifestyle by walking the stairs instead of using the elevator, walking or cycling instead of driving, and taking up gardening or dog walking. If just beginning a new exercise program, be sure to get a medical checkup and your doctor's approval.

  1. Krauts RM. et al. AHA Dietary Guidelines. Revision 2000: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. Circulation 2000. Circulation 2000 Oct 31;102(18):2284-99.

  2. American College of Sports Medicine, Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Malvern, PA: Lea & Febiger, 1997.

  3. Katch F and McArdle WD. Introduction to Nutrition, Exercise, and Health, Malvern, PA: Lea & Febiger, 1998.

  4. Jakicic JM et al. Effect of exercise duration and intensity on weight loss in overweight, sedentary women: a randomized trial. JAMA 2003 Sep 10;290(10):1323-30

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