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Given the thousands of diet schemes, diet experts, and weight loss products marketed to Americans daily, it’s easy to believe that if you could just identify the right approach for your body type, you could lose weight quickly and for good. But is it really that simple? Yes—and no.
Sure, you know that exercise counts, but when it comes to losing weight and maintaining a lower weight you may need to step up your commitment to being physically active, no matter how difficult it is to fit workouts into a busy schedule. The National Weight Control Registry, a program funded by the National Institute of Health, has tracked around 6,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year. There are four behaviors these individuals consistently demonstrate, says James Hill, PhD, cofounder of the program. They follow a low-fat, high-carb diet, they eat breakfast every day, they frequently monitor their weight, and most important, according to Hill, they “have high levels of physical activity.” A 2008 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the women who maintained the most weight loss exercised the most, about 275 minutes per week. That’s about 40 minutes every single day.
If possible, get 60 to 90 minutes of moderate exercise every day to lose and keep weight off. You can break it up into smaller amounts of time (30 minutes, twice a day, for example), and if you can only work out a few times a week, increase the length and intensity of workouts on those days. Think of this 60 minutes per day as a goal to build toward; start slowly and add as you can, says Timothy Church, MD, MPH, PhD, at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Also, find a form of exercise you love and work out with a friend or group; this increases your likelihood of keeping it up, he says.
Don’t view exercise as punishment for overeating. If you exercise just to burn calories you’ll likely end up yo-yo exercising, just as you might yo-yo diet, says May. So toss the calorie-burning chart and use exercise to improve your health, increase your energy, and feel better about yourself, she says.
Tie exercise in with another important part of your life, such as friendships. Participants from the National Weight Control Registry report that if they talk to their best friends every day while exercising, for example, they’re more likely to stick with their routines.
Be careful not to overeat because you’re exercising. A recent study found that of three groups of women exercising different amounts, those exercising the most (194 minutes) lost only half the weight that researchers expected (based on their energy outputs) because they rewarded themselves with food.