I recently got a question about how much exercise you should be doing for weight loss versus weight maintenance. My answer is whatever you can maintain, whatever is sustainable.
For example, if you’re doing two hours of cardio a day right now and it feels like hell, I highly recommend you don’t do that because honestly, it’s more about you staying in this for the long term than it is about losing weight in a short period of time.
I wrote a post a while back called “If You Can Lift a Fork, You Can Lose Weight.” You don’t have to exercise in order to lose weight, but it will speed up the process, and you get tons of great physical benefits from it; you can actually change your body composition if you’re doing the right types of exercises.
If you’re eating at a calorie deficit, you will lose weight, so the question becomes, what is sustainable for you? What is the amount of exercise you’re willing to do for the rest of your life? I call it your minimum. What is your minimum that you’re willing to do? Just as an example, my minimum is I want to walk at least 10,000 steps each day; I like to take several walks a day. And I do a minimum of three strength training workouts a week — that’s my minimum. Anything above that’s gravy.
If I feel like it, great; I’ll sometimes throw in two HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts, but that’s about it. I don’t go out of my way to kill myself at the gym, and I’ve maintained my weight doing that. When I was losing weight, I did a little bit more cardio, but not an excessive amount. I realize even then I didn’t have to; I just enjoyed doing certain classes at the gym.
It has to be enjoyable. If you’re miserable, chances are you will beat yourself up if you don’t do the workout you had planned when you really aren’t feeling it, and then you’re going to let your eating go, and then you’re going to find yourself right back where you started. It’s better to create a very nice minimum for yourself of what exercise you’re willing to do and adhere to that. I started at 280 pounds with lifting weights.
If I had to pick one thing that I would say to prioritize more than anything else, it would be strength training. Pretty much every personal trainer I’ve talked to will agree with me that no matter what weight you’re coming in at, if you’re lifting weights, you’ll get more benefit from that long term and in your body composition than you would if you’re doing excessive cardio. Even if you’re just doing it two days a week, whatever you can do as your minimum is what I would recommend.
It’s got to be sustainable. If you’re miserable doing it, you’re not going to keep up with it, and then you’re going to say, “To hell with it; I’m not doing enough.” Then you’re going to give up on the eating, and before you know it, you’ll be right back where you started. Don’t do that to yourself, OK? Try to find what is sustainable, what you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life. I’ll walk for the rest of my life. I’ll hit the weights a couple of times a week for the rest of my life. That’s doable. Some of this other crazy stuff, not so much.
You have to find your minimum and be willing to do that. If you’re miserable, stop doing what you’re doing; it’s not necessary.