Can You Lose More Weight By Exercising Less?

How is it possible to lose more weight by exercising less?

I like to consider myself a person with decent common sense.

But every so often I come across a bit of information that has me scratching my head.

First, let me ask you a question. Would you think that 60 minutes of exercise a day would cause you to lose more weight than 30 minutes a day?

I would.

It is simple logic, twice the exercise leads to twice the calories burned and therefore more weight loss.

But not so fast…

Some smart scientist from the University of Copenhagen decided to do a little test1.

The Exercise Study

The researchers found men living sedentary lifestyles and put them into three different exercise test groups.

Group one was assigned to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day at a level of intensity high enough to produce a light sweat.

Group two was asked to do 60 minutes of aerobic exercise daily at the same intensity.

The final group was directed to remain inactive.

What do you think happened? Sure, it’s not hard to guess the group that remained inactive didn’t get very far with their weight-loss goals over the 13 weeks of the study.

But in the case of the two groups that exercised, do you think the one that exercised the longest lost the most weight during the study?

The Surprising Results

Well, the two active groups showed a significant – and surprising – difference in their results.

Group one, the men who exercised for just 30 minutes each day, lost an average of nearly eight pounds… great results.

But surprisingly, group two, the men who exercised for 60 minutes (twice the exercise time) lost only six pounds! This is two pounds less than the group that exercised for half as long. Where did my common sense go?

In case you were wondering, the group that exercised for 60 minutes did in fact burn twice as many calories during their exercise sessions as the 30-minute group. So the reason does not appear to be exercise intensity.

So how in the world did these results occur?

One interesting and little-reported piece of data from the study is that even though the group that exercised for 30 minutes lost more weight, both groups lost the same amount of fat (around eight and a half pounds).

At first this confused me until I thought at about it further.

Both groups actually lost more fat than total weight, meaning they actually added a bit of muscle (which is great news for both groups). A good way to know if you are losing weight the right way is when you are not also losing muscle mass.

Furthermore, it appears the 60-minute group put on more muscle than the 30-minute group. So in fact, they had better body composition results than the 30-minute group.

I know this can be confusing, so let’s do the math.

Total Pounds Lost = Total Fat Loss Minus (-) Total Muscle Gain.

Both groups had a Total Fat Loss of eight and a half pounds.

The 30-Minute Group lost a total of eight pounds, so in order to get eight and a half pounds of fat loss they had to gain around a half of a pound of muscle.

The 60-Minute Group lost a total of six pounds, so in order to get eight and a half pounds of fat loss they had to gain two and a half pounds of muscle. This is actually five times the muscle increase.

And this would be a good thing as more muscle fiber increases metabolism and is far more dense (and therefore smaller) than fat mass.

What Does This Really Mean?

I think the most important thing to remember is that both groups achieved excellent results compared to the sedentary group by any standards. So the real take home is to go out and get some exercise!

More specifically, I find that a lot of people don’t exercise because of time constraints, and this study clearly demonstrates the benefits of just 30 minutes a day.

Speaking of time constraints, in an earlier article I cover a very time efficient (and effective) form of exercising called high intensity interval training. If you haven’t read this already, you might want to take a look at it here.

I am curious as to what kind and duration of exercise you are doing, and what kind of results you are getting. So please share below, it will help everyone out. And if you have any unique insights, questions, or advice to the group… please share below.

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

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1. M. Rosenkilde, P. L. Auerbach, M. H. Reichkendler, T. Ploug, B. M. Stallknecht, A. Sjodin. Body fat loss and compensatory mechanisms in response to different doses of aerobic exercise – a randomized controlled trial in overweight sedentary males. AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 2012;

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  1. Betty Lookabaugh

    I am a woman of 61 years. I have been working out for an couple of years. I have basically maintained weight. I have only lost 31 pounds in for almost two years in September. I found out that I was not getting my heart rate up. So I do Five minutes elliptical then weight machine, five minutes elliptical then machine. I do this till I have worked all the weights. It takes me two hours workout. So I started doing only a hour. I am starting to drop weight. But it seems to just creep back up.

  2. When I was younger, I had to swim 20 laps 5x wk to lose 10 lbs a month. Now that I am older, I was doing lighter weights with more reps 3x week but wasnt seeing any results so I doubled my weight 2 x a wk with 2 days of rest and swim 13 laps 3x a wk and have lost 2 lbs in 3 wks. I am also switching to PB Fix chocolate peanut butter powder for smoothies with almond milk, chia seeds, organic honey and 1/2 banana for less calories and saturated fat.

  3. I have Been doing personal training sessions as well as gym classes, hiit, spin, Zumba for the last year. Classes were one hour an I was in the gym 6 days a week .I have lost 10 pounds in that yr. The last fwe months I have been doing mainly cardio, one hour for four days. As well as cleaning eating 90% of the time. I lost an additional 2 pounds. However I’m at a standstill. I have included strength training 2x a week and cardio 3x an hour each. Smoothies, detox water, peanuts, and a healthy normal lunch has been my new plan.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Nay,

      Thank you for sharing your experience! It is a good idea to change routines regularly to keep your body challenged and burning calories. However, if your coping mechanisms are quick at adjusting, then you may need to slow or speed up more frequently than most. I hope the new routine you outlined gives you great results! Keep us posted and I wish you success in your journey to better health!

  4. My husband was very obese at 284 pounds and 5′ 6″. He joined Weight Watchers and started exercising and lost over 70 pounds and has kept it off. He’s down to 212 but that’s still a lot of weight on his frame. He walks/jogs 5-6 times a week for about an hour but is frustrated he can’t break the 200 mark. Perhaps a shorter duration exercising would help?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Nancy,

      Thank you for writing in! Yes, a change in routine should be done every few months to challenge the body. Your husband can either add a few pounds of weight for added resistance or break his long cardio into 2 30-minute workouts. The important thing is that he changes his routine so that his body does not get complacent and continues to burn extra calories. Do this every 2 to 3 months and let me know if it helps! Make it a healthy day!

  5. Im been drinking formula 1to lose weight for two months, and i don’t see any change on my weight i don’t know if im doing wrong . Im so sad.I feel so fat and ugly i hate my body.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Dania,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your experience with us! I am deeply sorry that you have not seen the expected results as of yet. RealDose Weight Loss Formula NO.1 works by helping your body gets your problem hormones back in order and for most, this does take time to happen. I understand your frustration at this time and do want to encourage you to continue with your healthy changes. Other tips I suggest are getting a lot of fiber rich food into your diet. Get a good amount of protein in your breakfast and lunch meals ( 0.36 to 0.60 per pound of body weight). And, getting plenty of sleep and water in your system. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  6. I have 1000 calories in my past history and did exercised for 45 minutes per day. I did lose the desired weight and gained muscle. I had protein shake in morning and a regular meal for dinner with a gallon of water/no sweets but a few carbs!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Barbara,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your experience with us! The amount of calories one needs to effectively lose weight yet still maintain perfect health will vary for every individual. That said, I congratulate you on your weight loss Barbara and, do thank you for sharing your diet regimen with us! Have a healthy day!

  7. have you tried calorie-counting? My mom is a dtbeaiic and needs to loose major pounds… her Dr. suggested calorie-counting (it’s been three months and she has lost 40 pounds!!)… search calorie counters on google (or yahoo) and you can type in a food… and it will give you the amount of calories in that food! I would suggest cutting your calorie intake down to a maximum of 1500 calories per day… it isn’t easy… but tell yourself ‘this is a lifestyle choice’. also record your calories on a notebook or computer… it will help you!GOOD LUCK! Was this answer helpful?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Mario,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! Calorie counting can be an effective tool for weight loss if you are also considering the quality of the calories you consume. For example, a 300 calorie plate of leafy greens or salad is a lot healthier than a small plate of meat and potatoes, with the same number of calories. If you are likely to eat a lot, I do recommend that you get the bulk of your calories from leafy greens and a piece of fruit. Also, always opt for lean meats and fish where possible. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

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