The best answer is both
Certainly, a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week, as the U.S. Surgeon General recommends, is an excellent goal. Numerous studies have found that as little as a half hour daily of aerobic exercise like walking can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other cardiovascular-related illnesses.
“But 30 minutes a day is not enough for someone who has a lot of weight to lose,” points out Jeff Novick, who holds an advanced degree in nutrition with a minor in exercise physiology.
The most comprehensive study of long-term weight loss ever conducted, the National Weight Control Registry, found that the vast majority of its 4,500 successful losers averaged about 60 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking, every day. (Brisk, as President Harry Truman so deftly defined it, is “walking as if you have somewhere to go.”)
The Registry participants have lost, on average, 66 pounds and kept it off for six years. They burn about 2,800 calories a week. If you exercise seven days a week, that’s 400 calories (about four miles) each day, or, for most people, about 60 minutes of brisk walking.
So, in addition to your more “formal” exercise, say, your 30 minutes on the treadmill in the morning, put on a pedometer and “step” throughout the day. Incorporating the popular new 10,000-steps-a-day recommendation into your daily living could very likely help you reach the 60 minutes of daily exercise that has proven so successful for significant, long-lasting weight loss.
Here’s the math: Your 30 minutes of “formal” exercise on the treadmill adds up to about two miles, or around 4,000 steps. (Though the number of steps can vary depending on your stride and speed, one mile tends to be about 2,000 steps). So, you’ve got 6,000 more steps to go, or about another two to three miles.
You can do it! Throughout the day, pedometer strapped to your belt, take advantage of all those seemingly small movement opportunities. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk while you talk on the phone. While flying, Nathan Pritikin used to stride up and down the aisles of the airplane. You can even step in place while waiting in line at the grocery store. If you get funny looks, just point to your pedometer and say “doctor’s prescription.”
You’ll be surprised at how quickly – and easily – you reach 10,000 steps, for a grand total of 4 to 5 miles every day. Now that’s how you lose weight – lots of weight – and keep it off, as the 4,500 National Weight Control Registry members learned.
“Here’s another way to look at it,” offers Jeff Novick. “If all you do is walk briskly for 30 minutes, you’ve burned just 200 calories. Since 3,500 calories is a pound of fat, you’d need 17.5 days to lose one single pound. At most, you’d be losing two pounds a month. Sure, you’re headed in the right direction, but if you have 50 to 100 pounds to lose, it would take two to four years to shed the weight.”
“But,” continues Jeff, “if you walk briskly for 30 minutes and include enough activity throughout the day to reach the combined total of 10,000 steps, you’re burning about 400 to 500 calories a day, which means you’re losing one pound easily each week. And that’s just from exercise! By following the Pritikin Eating Plan, you’re probably reducing your calorie intake at least 500 calories a day, which means you’re shedding a combined total of two pounds every week. If you have 50 to 100 pounds to lose, you can do it in six months to a year. Big difference!”
By all means, do more if you can. An hour in the gym (400 to 500 calories) plus 6,000 steps of being active throughout the day (300 calories) plus following the Pritikin Eating Plan (500-calorie deficit) nets you about a three-pound weight loss every week. In just four months, you’ll drop 50 pounds!
The most important thing, concludes Jeff, is to take advantage of both fitness tools – formal exercise and stepping throughout the day. “I always say to participants at Pritikin: ‘You have 24 hours in each day. If you sleep eight, that leaves 16. Which do you think is more important: the activity you get in the hour in the gym or the amount of activity you get in the remaining 15 hours of the day?’
“The answer is both. Both formal exercise and an active lifestyle are the FOUNDATION of a healthy life.”