A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that obese and overweight women must exercise at least 55 minutes a day, five days a week to drop 10 percent of their bodyweight and keep it off for at least two years.
The study reported that in addition to limiting calories, overweight women must exercise substantially more than was previously recommended. The less they exercised, the less they lost and the less they kept off. The magic number of 275 minutes a week seemed to make a difference.
The two-year study consisted of 191 women between the ages of 21 and 45 with a body mass index (BMI) of 27 to 40, which is above the threshold of healthy weight. Prior to the study, all of the women exercised less than 20 minutes a day, fewer than three days a week.
Overweight is typically defined as having a BMI (an approximation of body fat based on height and weight) of more than 25, while a BMI of more than 30 indicates obesity. Although BMI is not the most accurate measurement of body fat and health, it is a widely-used method that works fine for most people (if you carry a lot of muscle mass - such as a bodybuilder or other athlete - you may register as obese even though you are very lean and healthy).
The women were prescribed diets of between 1,200 and 1,500 calories a day, and were divided into groups with different exercise goals. While women in various groups lost weight, only those who exercised more than 55 minutes a day, five days a week, managed to keep the weight off two years later.
Prior to this study, health professionals often recommended that people exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes, five days a week. But that level is helpful only for those trying to maintain their health and is not effective for those who have managed to lose a large amount of weight and are trying to keep that weight off.
Much of the focus on obesity has centered on issues of diet and ignored the impact of regular physical activity. We know that diet without exercise is not as effective - the same holds true for those who exercise but don't follow proper nutritional guidelines.
Don't be discouraged by the exercise level required by these findings. Even though working out 55 minutes a day, five days a week, may seem like a lot, it can easily be done if you make time to do it. Most of the women in the study were working mothers, and they were successful with their fat loss goals because they made the time to exercise at a moderate intensity.
This isn't the first time that one hour a day, five days a week, has been recommended. In fact, John Berardi made the same recommendation in his book The Metabolism Advantage.
In his book, John Berardi writes:
Research from the University of Wyoming clearly demonstrates that it takes at least five hours a week to see real body composition results. In this survey of more than 1,000 people, researchers concluded that people who workout out for less time than that tend to be unhappy with the way they look and feel. On the other hand, people who workout for more than five hours a week tend to be happy with the way they look and feel.
According to scientifically based U.S. government guidelines, you must exercise for 30 minutes a day to improve your health and 60 minutes a day to burn fat. In research conducted on weight gainers and maintainers, maintainers spent 80 minutes or more per day exercising, whereas gainers spent 20 minutes or less.
This has held true with my own training. Whenever I strength train 3-4 days per week and perform additional cardio sessions (high intensity intervals, strongman-type workouts, ultimate frisbee, etc.) giving me at least five hours of exercise a week, I stay leaner, much more fit and healthy.
There have been times when I reduced my training sessions to three days per week, and I always gained weight while noticing a drop in my fitness levels. In order to meet my goals, the five hours per week rule almost always holds true.
I'm very busy with work and other commitments just like everyone else, but I make training one of my priorities throughout the week. I schedule it within my week so that I know what days and times I have set aside to train. I feel better and look better when I get nearly five hours or more of exercise a week.
Remember, there are 168 hours in a week and five hours of exercise only represents 3 percent of the entire week. Considering that the average North American watches 28 hours of television per week, five hours a week shouldn't be that problematic if you turn off the television or computer and get out and exercise.
The best way to structure your training is to perform at least three 45-60 minute strength-training sessions and three 25-30 minute cardio sessions each week. Once you reach your fat loss goals, you can reduce your training to 30 minutes a day as mentioned above in order to maintain your health, but it may require more than that to keep the fat off for a long period of time.
This is why strength training is so important. Muscle is the only thing that is metabolically active. Muscle mass increases metabolism and allows your body to burn fat effectively 24/7. Cardio alone will not keep the fat off (the reason many runners and bicyclists are overweight), and it certainly won't help you maintain muscle mass.
If you follow a supportive nutritional plan in addition to intense strength training and cardio, you will achieve your goal for a happier, healthier, leaner body just the way God intended!