Lose Twice the Weight With a Lower Intensity Workout

Senior Couple Walking on BeachFor people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight, a new study published last month in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity shed light on a different exercise approach that yielded twice the amount of weight loss in comparison with a more traditional exercise program.[1]

The more successful exercise approach, deemed “high calorie expenditure” (HCE) exercise by the research team, involved walking at 50 percent to 60 percent of maximum exertion for 45-60 minutes per day 5-7 times each week. (The study authors did not explicitly indicate whether the walking was done on treadmills, on an indoor track or an outside course.) The goal of the program was to burn significantly more calories through less intense exercise than a traditional exercise program. The target number of burned calories per week using the HCE method was between 3,000 and 3,500.

The more traditional exercise program, patterned after the heart disease treatment option known as cardiac rehabilitation (CR), involved treadmill walking for 25 minutes and cycling for eight minutes, three days a week at 65 percent to 70 percent maximum exertion. The CR approach was targeted to burn 700-800 calories per week.

The primary reason for utilizing the standard cardiac rehab protocol as the traditional exercise program was due to the make-up of the study subjects. Seventy-one obese patients with chronic heart disease with an average age of 64 were enrolled in the study and divided into two groups. Thirty-six of the patients followed the HCE program and the other 35 followed the CR program. The average height and weight for each group was approximately 5 feet 8 inches and 210 pounds (about 45 pounds overweight for a person of this average height).

During the five-month study, all of the participants also followed a diet plan in which they targeted to consume 500 calories less per day than the level of calories at their ideal weight. At the end of the five-month period, the researchers evaluated the percentage of weight lost, the number of daily calories burned, and a number of quality of life measures they collected through surveying the study participants.

The HCE group lost an average of 18 pounds over the five-month study period while the CR group lost an average of 8 pounds. Since both groups followed the same diet plan, the researchers associated the weight loss differences with the different exercise regimens followed by the two groups. And according to the study results, the HCE group burned, on average, 464 more calories each day compared to an average increase of 75 per day among the CR group.

Dramatically Improve Your Weight Loss Odds

Admittedly, it seems obvious that if you expend more calories in a given week through any form of exercise, the chances of losing a greater amount of weight over time go up. So the study results might not strike readers as particularly earth-shattering. 

But the study’s results demonstrating the ability to dramatically improve weight loss odds through less intense exercise, even if the time commitment each week is greater, is likely a welcome alternative for many people who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight, in addition to those with chronic heart disease.

Why don’t physicians typically recommend or prescribe HCE-style programs to their elderly, obese and heart disease patients? The study authors indicated there seems to be a prevailing belief among physicians that these types of patients will not comply with the greater exercise time commitment of a HCE-style program in terms of both number of days exercised per week and minutes per workout.

While the lower time commitment cardiac rehab style exercise programs have been shown to be effective in improving cardiovascular functioning, they have a spotty record with regard to weight loss improvements. According to the study authors, even the current exercise recommendations from the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine for older adults (30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise five days a week with an additional 30 minute strength training exercise session on two of the five days) are not considered adequate to produce notable weight loss. Both organizations recommend exercising for longer periods of time each day in order to achieve appreciable weight loss.

So while there are concerns about compliance with a HCE-style program, it seems it is more likely to generate significantly greater weight loss. And the researchers seemed unconvinced the HCE program would generate lower compliance. For example, the study participants following the HCE program reported higher scores than the CR group on the “physical activity enjoyment scale” portion of the quality of life surveys, and the research team noted no compliance differences among participants in the two exercise approaches.

This led the study authors to conclude, “HCE exercise as part of a behavioral weight-loss program leads to not only more than twice the weight loss and greater improvement in cardiometabolic risk factors but also greater change in self-assessments of physical, social, and emotional functioning, as well as greater increases in exercise enjoyment than the amount of exercise associated with a standard CR program for older adults. Those who performed more exercise and lost more weight had greater improvement in their physical and social functioning … One of the most important conclusions of this study is that not only can older adults Nordic Walking Instructionperform higher levels of exercise than are currently recommended, but also the higher exercise levels actually impart additional physical and mental benefits.”

So if you’re looking to lose weight, this study’s results seem to indicate walking for up to 60 minutes a day, 5-7 days a week at 50 percent to 65 percent of maximum exertion is an approach worth considering. To boost the effects of such a program, we’d recommend incorporating Nordic walking poles. We’ve previously written about Nordic walking and the additional conditioning benefits that one can obtain from utilizing the poles in conjunction with a regular walking program.


[1] Pope L, et al. The Impact of High-Calorie-Expenditure Exercise on Quality of Life in Older Adults with Coronary Heart Disease. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 2011; 19: 99-116.