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I'm extremely unfit and out of shape. I'm not super super fat, but I've been almost sedentary for a couple years now, so running is really hard for me.

I really don't enjoy being out of breath and uncomfortable, so instead of e.g. running on the treadmill, I will power walk. I find that if I try to run I usually run out of breath and have to stop.

Lately I've been wondering how it is that I know that I'm working hard enough. I have no idea how fast I should be walking or cycling or whatever. I'm using a mix of the treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical and cross trainer. I feel that maybe you have to really push yourself and get sweating to be burning calories. Should I be getting to the point where I'm out of breath? Am I going to burn fat by power walking?

Sorry if this is a stupid question.

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It's definitely not a stupid question. When you start out the most important thing is getting your heart/lungs into good shape. Once you achieve that you can choose the type of workout that will lead to the gains that you're looking for. –  Evan Plaice Mar 29 '11 at 14:57
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

You will burn fat by creating a calorie deficit. You want to shoot for a deficit of 500 calories a day or 3500 calories in a week to burn 1 lb. of fat. Easier to try to do it daily though than one big weekend work-out fest.

Use this calculator for an estimate of how much calories you burn for your activity. If you don't want to deal with a heart rate monitor, do the Talk Test to gauge your intensity levels.

Moderate - can still carry on a conversation, breathing is "light" to "somewhat hard"

Vigorous - can't talk, breathing is "hard"

Switch intensity levels during your walks (i.e. 3 minutes moderate to 1 minute vigorous, repeat). You will burn more calories this way.

To be successful:

  1. Create a food diary and count your calories
  2. Create a work-out diary and count your work-outs. This will help you track your improvements.

Good luck!

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Baby steps are the key words here. If you want to lose weight by exercising good for you. You need to find something you enjoy and the rest will almost take care of itself. Maybe go hiking, where running isn't an option, but can be fun. Maybe mountain biking.

But don't work yourself to exhaustion though. Just be sure to stay within 70% of your maximum heart. That is the maximum you should work out at. See this link to see how to calculate your heart rate.

Three years ago I started taking salsa dance lessons. Got so addicted to it and the lifestyle that goes with it that I had no choice but to dance some more to get better. Eventually diet came into the picture and things are looking great.

And the answer is no, you should be comfortable to be able to burn calories. I think I read somewhere once that pushing yourself harder will not necessarily burn more fat. Fat is burned when you move more slowly. As you move more aggressively, carbohydrates start to burn more and you burn less fat.

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Can you provide a reliable source for your statement that "Fat is burned when you move more slowly. As you move more aggressively, carbohydrates start to burn more and you burn less fat." I'm having a very hard time agreeing with that, and I've never found any information to support that theory. –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 29 '11 at 14:41
    
I think I should have said the ratio pf fat to carbohydrates changes so that you burn more carbohydrates than fat. But anyhow, here's a link: weighttraining.about.com/od/fatlossweighttraining/a/… –  Salsero69 Mar 29 '11 at 14:59
    
Yes, the ratio changes, but you typically burn less. From the source you cite: "The fat burning zone, a low intensity speed zone is mainly a gimmick [...]". "[The] problem with exercising slowly and at a lower heart rate to burn more fat is that you end up burning fewer total calories and less total fat." - (Medicinenet.com) –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 29 '11 at 15:19
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