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How Long Must You Exercise to See Change?

By Lisa Sefcik ; Updated July 18, 2017

You didn't go from fit to fat in a period of a few days -- or even a few weeks. Every pound you want to lose represents some 3,500 calories you must burn. Exercise is a valuable part of any weight loss plan, but it takes time to see visible changes in your body.

Weight Loss Formula

Your resting metabolic rate and level of physical activity are the two biggest contributors to how many calories you need per day, says the American Council on Exercise. When you're trying to lose weight, you can either burn up those extra pounds through calorie reduction or increased physical activity -- exercise. In a January 2005 CNN report, Jon Harris, a representative for Bally Fitness, added a third component: perseverance. To see change from your exercise plan, you have to be willing to stick with it, even when you don't get instant results. Weight loss is a slow, steady process that involves making permanent lifestyle changes with which you can live.

Burning Calories

The three factors that determine how many calories you expend during exercise are the frequency at which you work out, how long you exercise and the intensity of the physical activity. Someone who weighs 145 lbs. burns roughly 350 calories during a 50-minute, moderately intense aerobic dance class. A 180-lb. person, on the other hand, burns around 440. If both were to attend classes five days a week, they would burn 1,750 and 2,200 calories, respectively. After two weeks, the 145-lb. individual would lose around 1 lb., while the 180-lb. person could feasibly lose 1.25 lbs. from exercise alone. High-intensity exercise burns more calories per minute. For example, a 145-lb. person burns roughly 350 calories running for 40 minutes at a pace of 5 mph, but uses only 88 calories if walking at her normal pace for the same amount of time.

Seeing Results

Some exercise machines and other devices make an impossible promise: that you can burn fat from a specific body part -- such as your abdomen, buttocks or thighs -- if you only exercise this part of the body a few minutes a day. According to a June 2008 press release from the Endocrine Society, exercising for weight loss won't change the way your body fat is distributed, which dispels the myth that spot reduction is possible. ACE goes on to note that your problem spots might be the very last areas to slim down. For many men, this is belly fat. Women might have more trouble with their hips, thighs and buttocks.

Formula for Success

The length of time it takes for you to see noticeable results from your exercise plan depends on your willingness to commit to it and stick with it for the long haul. ACE notes that weight loss of 1 to 2 lbs. each week is the standard recommendation made by most medical professionals. You might not be ready to hit the department store to buy clothes in a smaller size after one week or even two; however, if you work diligently toward your goal, you can reach it. ACE recommends starting small. Schedule a 30-minute brisk walk at least five days out of the week. Increase the length of your walk to an hour as your body adapts to the demands of increased physical activity. Calorie reduction is also a part of any successful weight loss plan. ACE suggests a reasonable start: Shave 250 calories from your diet every day and burn another 250 through exercise, for a 1 lb. weekly weight loss.

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