By: Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN

Trying to lose weight? If you’ve asked around about how to lose weight, then you may hear things like “weight loss is all about diet” but in fact, weight loss is “all about” a good balance between diet and getting more active. Physical activity is an essential component for general health and for meeting your weight loss goals.

If you think that working out each week is just way too hard, we’re here to tell you that physical activity can actually make weight loss easier. Keep reading for physical activity recommendations, how they make weight loss easier and some tips on how to burn calories when you’re not at the gym.


What is physical activity?

You may see several terms being used interchangeably to describe physical activity, however, there are specific definitions to be aware of:

  • Physical activity: Any bodily movement that requires energy expenditure (in other words, a “calorie burn”). Examples of physical activity: exercise, walking around the block, cleaning the house, gardening, bike riding, dancing.
  • Exercise: An activity that requires energy expenditure and is often repetitive in nature. Exercise may be performed in order to increase physical fitness. Examples of exercise: weight lifting, jogging, pushups, sit ups, high-intensity interval training.
  • Physical fitness: A state of being able to perform well in sports, occupational activities and other physical activities. Physical fitness is generally achieved via exercise and encompasses cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition.

So, exercise is an example of physical activity, but physical activity actually encompasses all sorts of activities that you may be doing every day. The bottom line is that we all should strive to be more physically active for general health and especially if you’re trying to lose weight. As you go about your day, get creative about how you can increase your calorie burn. Keep reading for our suggestions!


How does physical activity help with weight loss?

There are many benefits of physical activity such as decreased risk of mortality (1). However, getting more physically active can help you lose weight and/or help make your dietary weight loss efforts more effective. If you are just tackling weight loss via diet and calorie restriction, you may find calorie control to be really challenging.

Physical activity can help you burn calories, allowing you to lose weight. If you use physical activity to your advantage, you may be able to actually increase your calorie intake since you can burn extra calories via exercise. For example, without any physical activity, you may need to limit yourself to 1500 calories per day in order to lose 1 pound per week. If you exercise and burn 2000 calories per week, you may be able to increase your calories to 1700 calories per day while still losing weight. Please note: This is just an estimation. Your weight loss team will be able to determine the best goals for you. If you are already using PrescribeWell, take a look at your Prescription, it will have this information.

An extra 200 calories may allow you to treat yourself with a cookie, something that your current weight loss diet may be missing. Hallelujah! For more information about calorie counting, exercise and metabolism for weight loss, click here.


Physical Activity Recommendations

The American Heart Association has specific exercise recommendations for adults based on their weight goals and how hard they exercise.

  Moderate Intensity Cardio High Intensity Cardio
Exercise for General Health and Weight Maintenance 150 minutes per week 75 minutes per week
Exercise for Weight Loss 300 minutes per week 150 minutes per week

Are you meeting these recommendations? If you’ve been struggling to lose weight, it’s time to be honest with yourself and determine if and how you can meet these exercise recommendations. Luckily, these recommendations can be split into 1-hour, 30-minute or even 10-minute sessions throughout your day. If using PrescribeWell, you spoke to your doctor about this and can look at your Prescription for their recommendations.

Also, make sure you are actually working out at the proper intensity. Based on your doctor’s recommendations, you may or may not be able to do moderate or high intensity exercise. For reference, moderate intensity exercise is when you can talk while exercising, but you can’t sing. High intensity exercise is when you are breathing heavily and it is difficult to talk. Click here for more information about physical activity intensity (and to see some examples).


Ways to Get More Physically Active

To get in more physical activity, make lasting, simple changes each and every day! Along with your regular exercise plan, you can burn extra calories by making these little steps. While you may not adopt all of these changes right away, you can most likely do at least 1 of these today!

  • Park your car far away in the parking lot and walk to the building (i.e. work, grocery store, bank, restaurant).
  • Take a walk after dinner by yourself, with a friend or family member or with your dog.
  • On your lunch break, walk around your work building. Pack a lunch that you can eat while walking (i.e. veggie wrap, smoothie).
  • Take the stairs as often as possible.
  • Purchase a treadmill or elliptical for your living room so that you can exercise while watching your favorite show.
  • When working at a desk, get up and stretch every hour on the hour.
  • Get a standing desk. There are many standing desk attachments for purchase, or you can make your own by stacking books under your desk, computer and/or keyboard.
  • If you are sitting at your desk, consider sitting on a large medicine ball instead of a chair.
  • Consider an under-the-desk elliptical. You can use this at the office or while watching TV.
  • Make a goal for yourself to do a cardio exercise while watching a program and lift weights during the commercial breaks.
  • If possible, make your book reading more active by reading on a cardio machine.


Before You Start Getting Active

While you may feel really motivated to get more active, make sure that you understand if you have any physical limitations. Age, injuries and some chronic diseases can prevent you from doing some activities safely, so talk to your doctor.