The best way to burn calories and lose weight

A slow, moderate workout may be the best choice for women who want to burn fat and lose weight.

WASHINGTON DC.--- But many men—except for those who are chubby—can get good results from a shorter, slightly more intense exercise session, reports ARS nutrition researcher Nancy L. Keim.

For the study, 32 male and 32 female volunteers pedaled on an exercise bike through a series of 5-minute stints. The workouts were made progressively more difficult by increasing resistance on the bike's braking mechanism. From these mini-workouts, Keim calculated the number of calories—and calories derived from stored fat—that these volunteers would have burned if the sessions had extended a half hour.

So that results would be useful for as many people as possible, they excluded elite athletes from the experiment; volunteers' fitness levels were from "average" to "good." And the group included volunteers who were slightly below or as much as 40 percent above their desired weight.

Most female volunteers, says Keim, would have needed to work out approximately twice as long as the males to burn 300 calories. The 300-calorie target is the workout minimum recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine for weight loss.

These specialists advise 300-calorie workouts three to five times a week, with a minimum intensity of 60 percent maximum heart rate.

For those not familiar with computing calories and heart rates, Keim offers some handy figures: Normally adult women burn about 1,900 to 2,200 calories a day. Men use about 2,300 to 2,900. The minimum intensity, or heart rate, recommended for workouts translates to about 115 beats a minute for a 30-year-old man or woman. (You can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.)

To burn 300 calories, with as many of those calories from fat as possible, most of the women in the experiment would have had to exercise from 46 to 60 minutes at about 65 percent maximum heart rate.

Men, depending on their fitness level, would have had to cycle for only 28 to 35 minutes, at the same intensity, to burn the 300 calories.

In general, the male volunteers not only burned more calories while cycling at the same intensity as the females, but also burned more fat calories—that is, calories derived from fat. (SOURCE: ARS/USDA)

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