Which Exercise is Best for Weight Loss?

Any kind—and any amount—of exercise is better than no exercise. Some studies suggest that as long as you burn 1,000 calories a week, you’ll lower your risk of disease.

But if you want to know which exercise is best for weight loss, the information here —based on exercise specialist David Nieman’s book Exercise Testing and Prescription—shows how many calories a 150-pound person burns by doing any of these common physical activities for an hour. (If you weigh more, you’ll burn more calories; if you weigh less, you’ll burn fewer calories.)

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We’ve also included information about how well each activity builds cardiovascular health or builds muscle strength (1 = not at all, 2 = a little, 3 = moderately, 4 = strongly, and 5 = very strongly). For muscle strength, the activity is rated high if both upper and lower body muscles are strengthened.

How many calories will these common activities burn?

  • Brisk walking burns 270 calories in an hour, while slow walking will burn 170 calories. A brisk walk gets a rating of 3 for cardiovascular health, and a slow walk earns a 2. Both brisk and slow walking earns a rating of 2 for muscle building.
  • Yoga will burn 170 calories, gets a 1 for cardiovascular health, and a 2 for muscle building.
  • Dancing will burn 305 calories an hour, and will earn you a 3 and 2 for cardiovascular health and muscle building.
  • Aerobic dance will burn 475 calories per hour, and we rate it a 4 for both cardiovascular health and building muscle strength.
  • Gardening burns 340 calories an hour and gets a rating of 3 for both cardiovascular health and muscle building.
  • Lawn mowing burns 305 calories and gets a rating of 3 for cardiovascular health and muscle building.
  • Tennis burns through 475 calories in an hour, and earns a rating of 4 in cardiovascular health, and a 3 in muscle building.
  • Stair climbing burns 610 calories in an hour, earns a rating of 5 for cardiovascular health, and a 4 for building muscle.
  • Basketball burns 545 calories, and is rated a 4 for cardiovascular health and a 2 for building muscle.
  • Canoeing or rowing will burn a whopping 815 calories, and has the highest possible rating of 5 for building cardiovascular health and is rated a 4 for muscle building.
  • Fast-paced cycling will burn 680 calories, and earns a 5 and 4 rating, while leisurely cycling only burns 375 calories and earns a 3 and 2 rating.
  • Racquetball burns 475 calories and is rated 4 and 3.
  • Moderate to hard jumping rope burns a great 680 calories and earns the highest rating of 5 for cardiovascular health, and a 3 for muscle building.
  • Running at a brisk pace will burn a tremendous 920 calories per hour, gets a rating of 5 for cardiovascular health, and a 2 for muscle building.
  • Running at a moderate pace is no slouch in burning calories at 680 per hour. Slower running also earns a rating of 5 and 2.
  • Shoveling and digging burns 580 calories per hour, and gets a respectable rating of 4 for cardiovascular health and for muscle building.
  • Cross country skiing burns 610 calories in an hour, and earns a 5 for cardiovascular health and a 4 for muscle building.
  • A casual game of soccer will burn 475 calories and is rated 4 and 3.
  • Swimming vigorously burns 680 calories in an hour, and moderate swimming will burn 545 calories. Swimming earns a cardiovascular health rating of 5 and 4 respectively, and a 4 and 3 respectively in muscle building.
  • Competitive volleyball will burn 270 calories and earns a 3 for both cardiovascular health and muscle building.
  • Weight training burns 205 calories, earns a 2 for cardiovascular health, and, expectedly, a rating of 5 for muscle building.

So next time you are wondering which exercise is best for weight loss, consult this list, find an exercise you like, and have some fun.

Sources: David Nieman (personal communication) and Exercise Testing and Prescription: A Health-Related Approach, by David Nieman (Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing, 1999). 



4 Replies to “Which Exercise is Best for Weight Loss?”

  1. Good info. But there’s more to losing weight than just calories burned during the exercise. According to Positive Changes Hypnosis’ weight loss program, resistance exercise (muscle building) is the best for weight loss in the long run, because muscle burns more calories even at rest than fat tissue.

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: Muscle does burn more calories than fat tissue, but the extra calories burned by muscle built up from resistance exercise isn’t enough to make much difference in body weight. Here’s a recent review of 35 studies that found no effect of resistance training on belly fat.

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