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Role of Aerobic Exercise in Getting and Keeping You Lean

by Jeanne M. Hewitt

A common misconception is that the more aerobic exercise you do, the thinner you will get. Many people overdo aerobic exercise, attending aerobics classes for years, or spending lots of time walking or jogging. While a certain amount of aerobic exercise is necessary for cardiovascular health, too much aerobic exercise can be counterproductive if your goal is fat loss and a lean body. It can be counterproductive in three ways:

  1. Can lead to overuse injuries.
  2. Can lead to excessive fatigue and overtraining.
  3. It takes up a lot of time and energy, often taking away time and energy from weight training.
Though TOO MUCH aerobic exercise can lead to less than desirable results, doing the RIGHT AMOUNT of aerobic exercise works synergystically with good nutrition and weight training to achieve fat loss. What role does aerobic exercise play? Aerobic exercise burns calories and boosts your metabolism on a short term basis. If you expend an extra 1750-3500 calories through exercise per week (250-500 calories a day), you will burn the equivalent of 1/2-1 pound of fat every week, assuming you don't increase your food intake. The bottom line is, GET YOUR BODY MOVING!

How much should I exercise? For fat loss, you need to exercise 5-6 days a week, 20-40 minutes per session (or about 120-180 minutes per week total), at a moderate to high intensity. If you haven't been exercising, work up to this level VERY GRADUALLY! Once you've achieved your desired body composition, 3 times a week is about what it takes to maintain your cardiovascular health and weight.

Moderate to high intensity means that you should be breathing harder, sweating, and your heart rate should be elevated. However, you should still be able to carry on a conversation with minor difficulty. It's best to work at various intensities. Don't do all your exercise at very high or very low intensities. Walking is great exercise, however, if you are in quite good shape, it's likely you will need to increase your intensity if you want good results. More than 180 minutes of aerobic exercise per week generally does not give better results. Instead of exercising more than 180 minutes per week, concentrate your time and energy on weight training.

Jeanne M. Hewitt, Pharm. D. and Certified Personal Trainer, is Author and Publisher of “Time Out for Fitness”, a FREE, twice weekly e-newsletter offering fitness tips and motivation to make good nutrition and effective exercise a part of your daily lifestyle. Subscribe by sending a blank e-mail to or go to website at and enter your e-mail address.
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