One year later - if anyone sees this note, just to say thanks. I now have 10% body fat, 85kg (started at 130!), and I run demi-marathons.

After reading a vast quantity of books and papers (about 60 monographs) the solution for me was the 1967 book W. Lutz, "Leben Ohne Brot". I personally found everything else rather confused and unscientific. I hope it helps someone.

I just wanted to thank you all for being the inspiration in the earliest days. Very best!

At the worthwhile suggestion of many experts, I have made my question much more consice, and focussed on the question I really am interested in!

I am 46 yrs male, 6', good general health, but have FAT - basically a great big "beer gut". FTR I was the chubby kid in primary school, and then from 14 to 35 very skinny, and now, FAT! Diet: fortunately I eat only home-made food (meats, vegetables, fruits). I eat no sweets. We (thank God) eat no fast food or processed food of any type. I do not drink beer or liquor (but lots of wine).

I generally love exercise, and very fortunately have total commitment-ability, and understand results take a long time. For years I have had no time, or not made the time.

My basic question:

Starting now, I plan to exercise for perhaps 30 minutes a day, every day.

(Unless someone tells me that's wrong and I should do more/less/who knows?)

My essential question:

option A I will basically "walk fast and hard" for my 45 minutes. (I am not really able to run at this point, my knees are gettin' old. I enjoy hiking long distances, although do it only once a month presently.)

option B Instead of Walking Hard for 45 mins a day, I will buy some sort of fancy machine (perhaps an elliptical, or the like? you're the experts) and use that for 45 mins a day from here on in. Why? Could the machine be plain more efficient to do that? (Rather than just walking hard?) ie, you burn more calories (or whatever - you tell me!) on a fancy machine (elliptical? rowing? x-skiing? stationary bike?) compared to plain old Mark1 walking?

if so (if the machine is more efficient), it would seem to be sensible to do that, as it would essentially save time, and get "more exercise" (aerobic, heart, whatever - I don't know) per year. (There's also an edge of plain efficiency working out right in your house - no travel/prep time, etc.)

Again - another way to phrase this, is walking (hard) worth anything? If you are planning to exercise 45 mins a day for the future? Or is it just plain silly compared to some posh machine? The posh machine will burn much more, tone you better up top .. or no?

So should I go with option A or option B .... ??!

That's the shorter version - THANKS !!!!!!

JonJon - here you go!

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  • Welcome to the site @Joe, I do suggest you have a long hard look at your question and strip away all the unnecessary details, because they distract from what we need to answer your question.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 22:10
  • I will suggest that you edit the question like the following: where you're at (i.e. current physical stats/ability, any limitations), where you want to be, and finally summarize your question succinctly. The title of your question, "How can an overweight engineer get back in shape?", is different than what you summarized in your summary, "ultimate goal is sheer aerobic staying power". These questions will have very different answers! (it's ok to ask multiple questions too)
    – Tony R
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 16:33
  • The short answer is yes! Do note, you will need recovery days to help your body recuperate from exercise. A low heart rate (zone 1 if you do zone training) is also known as "Active Recovery". In short, you can do active recovery daily, but any more than that and your muscles won't be recovering as quickly. Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:36
  • Re: lots of wine. Wine has alcohol and alcohol is empty calories with plenty of carbs. I recommend limiting that to once a week while losing weight. I might even suggest cutting it out altogether until you've hit your goal. Imbibing once a week while maintaining won't cause you to regain everything. Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:39
  • You already got lots of info (BackInShapeBuddy's answer is really good) but just as a motivation story: my dad is in his early 50's and was over 70 pounds over weight. For his health sake he started eating less and healthier, and excercising, mainly jogging. He started slow but he can now run 10k+ and is now swimming to (jobs 5k and then goes and swims ~1.5k). He is better than ever (though people sometimes think he lost weight due to some illness, it really is an impressive change). He lost all this weight in a bit over a year. So yes, you can get in shape, in time and with effort Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 16:41

8 Answers 8


You have lots of good info offered already. Here are some of my suggestions.

  1. You say you are 47 y.o., out of shape and fat around the middle with shortness of breath on exertion - check with your doctor before starting on an exercise program and you’ll have better success. Your doctor will help you track improvements in your test results as you get back in shape. And your doctor can give you a healthy diet to follow. If you cut calories too drastically, you’ll set yourself up for long term failure.

  2. Measure your waist circumference to track your progress. Also calculate and track your percentage of body fat. These 2 numbers are more helpful in determining your success than just monitoring your weight alone. Your goal for your waist measurement is about half of your height. A healthy body fat percentage in your age range is 11 to 22%.

  3. Address your diet - food and drink. Wine calories add up. (85 cal for a small glass and more like 150 for the size glasses most of us like :). A 3500 calorie deficit = 1 pound of weight loss. Walking a mile burns ~ 100 calories. So you can see that it takes a lot more effort to burn off 3500 calories than it does to consume that amount.

  4. Exercise a) cardio - Sounds like you will like the ElliptiGO - an elliptical trainer bike. You’ll get a good cardio-vascular workout and can vary the intensity. There is no impact like there is with running so it is easy on your knees. Best of all you can use it outdoors. And if it rains you can set it up in doors with a stationary trainer adaptor. Wear a heart rate monitor to maximize your workouts and keep from over exerting. (I like my Timex T5G971).

    You may also look into a pair of nordic walking poles for your hikes. You’ll recruit more muscles especially through your trunk. And they can help if your knees bother you.

    Goal Duration: 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise per week generally broken down to 30 minutes per day most days per week, or 1.75 hours of vigorous exercise per week.

    Goal Intensity: Moderate intensity would range from 55% to 75% or your max heart rate. Or a level of exertion of 12 to 16 (somewhat hard to hard at a steady pace) on the Borg Scale when exercising. You can calculate your target heart rate to optimize your workouts. Your doctor may also give you guideline targets.

  5. Cross Train - No, you don’t have rubbish ideas. But you do want to cross train. Doing the same exercise program everyday may result in overuse injuries, accommodation, boredom and plateaus. So, mix it up. Walk some days, use an elliptical trainer or bike on others and consider swimming (or running in water) on other days. These use your muscles and joints in different ways and yield maximal results.

  6. Intervals - You will also want to learn about interval training, once you have a good basis with your cardio or aerobic exercise program. Interval training is a more efficient use of your time as it bumps up calorie burning. Always warm up before and cool down afterwards.

  7. Exercise b) resistance or strength training - Even if you don’t want muscles you will want to include resistance training 2 to 3 times per week. This can be in the form or resistance bands, body weight exercises, free weights or weight machines. Body weight exercises like the plank and side planks will help your abs and tackle your belly and they are easy to do at home. Ball wall squats will work your quads and help protect your knees. Lean muscle mass helps to burn more calories and provides protection to aging joints.

  8. Exercise c) Stretching - A well rounded program to get back in shape should also include daily stretching. Lack of flexibility is one of the greatest aging factors on our bodies. Breathing, rest and relaxation, balance and posture are other aspects to keep in mind.

  9. And last but not least - congratulations for getting started. You owe those kids of yours to be a good role model and to give them a healthy lifestyle. Exercise balls and resistance bands in the tv room make tv time less sedentary. Wii Fit or Xbox’s, Your Shape, are fun for family games. Active family outings and sports are all ways to create a healthy lifestyle.

Best of luck.

  • You are welcome. I read your new short version. Why not do option A and B - cross train? Walking can and does burn calories. Your knees may grumble though with fast and hard walking everyday. Switching off with an elliptical is a great way to cross train. You'll have the best of both worlds. # 4 and #5 Commented May 18, 2011 at 11:44
  • As to point 2, I would say that is a maximum circumference. If you get below that you'll do good. The point where you measure your waist is about the belly button--not where your pants sit. In pant sizes I'm a 34, while at the waist I'm still ~40" and shrinking (about .25" a week). It's the larger size you want at half your height. (according to that advice I should be no more than 36.5" around the waist). Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:32
  • @Berin on point 2, yes ideally men’s waist circumference measurements should be less than 35" to 40" and the waist to height ratio should be 0.55 or less. Some groups have lower recommendations depending on medical condition or ethnicity. Commented May 18, 2011 at 14:27
  • 1
    @Joe, sorry to be the one to tell you that your wine adds about 2500 calories/week. A 750 ml bottle of wine has 25.36 oz. An ounce of most wines is about 25 calories. 25 oz x 25 cal/oz = 625 calories for an average bottle of wine. 4 bottles/week x 625 calories /bottle = 2500 calories/week. There is some variation depending on the variety of wine. The good news is that if you are sharing the bottle of wine you can cut that total in half :) Commented May 18, 2011 at 17:53
  • 1
    @Back LOL and shudder .. thanks. It's interesting to note that 5 or so bottles of wine a week (some are bigger), is, pretty much the same as the "3500 / 1 pound loss" metric. (You know, I wonder if that's one of the key reasons I got fat! An otherwise good intake - but emptying out the cellar.) There's a great book title: Lose a pound a week forever, by merely drinking five less bottles of wine each week.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 22:05

You seem adamant about only doing cardio, but I really think you should consider lifting some weights. Strength training is great for your back, knees and general posture. It will also get your ticker going just fine on its own -- but by all means, add some cardio if you must.

Weight loss is mainly done in the kitchen, you'll simply have to eat less (calories). Just be aware that slimming down using only diet/cardio will affect your muscle mass just as much as that fat around your belly. I'm sure strong and lean is better for your health than slimmy-fat.

  • Thank you so much for the response, I am reading it carefully!
    – Fattie
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 11:54
  • I just started the program, and am still in the "learn the technique" set of weights, but its started giving me more muscle mass and less fat already. Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:03

Last October (2010) I was nearly 300lb (just 5lb shy), and had some serious issues with psoriasis flaring up in a big way on my feet. That made certain activities quite painful as the soles of my feet were just cracked open skin. So I made some changes, and started with my diet. That alone helped me lose 85lb (2011) and the fact I wasn't carrying around that much extra weight helped my feet clear up. Since then I've been going to the gym.

Some things I've learned in the process:

  • Diet does 80% of the work losing weight. Start here--and if you are like me, you'll need some external motivation. I was in a program where we kept a weekly food diary that was reviewed by a weight loss coach. My wife was also on board.
  • Heart rate is more important than speed. Your body burns a certain ratio of fat and sugars (carbs) at different heart rates. A lower heart rate workout will burn more fat than sugars. The walking or low impact elliptical is a good idea--but keep an eye on your heart rate. You may have to go slower than you want at first.
  • Strength training builds muscle, which also burns fat. Cardio is going to burn more calories while you are doing it, but you want more muscle to keep doing work while you aren't working out.
  • Hydration improves weight loss and your ability to think. Drink plenty of water (not sports drinks or juices, etc.) throughout the day. With my diet, I get more than enough electrolytes so the sports drinks aren't necessary. They only become critical when you are running hard and/or long distances. At the very least 2 liters a day, but if you do strength training I'd say a gallon a day. I see more/better weight loss results when I stay fully hydrated than the days when I slack off.

Take a look at the StrongLifts 5x5 program. I just started it myself, and chose it because it was geared for the rank beginner. Starting with just the bar weight is much less intimidating than starting with a bunch of math and figures you just don't know (like your 1 rep max). In the first month you are learning form as your progressively increase weight--and you'll start getting to real work weights by month two.

Choose rewards that further your fitness goals. When you get to milestones you've set for yourself (20lb loss, 40lb loss, etc.) instead of rewarding yourself with a decadent snack, buy yourself a heart rate monitor, or new running shoes, etc. Another fun and will be needed reward is new clothes. I found that at every 20lbs I lost a pant size.

If you do weight lifting, you'll want higher amounts of protein in your diet, and fewer carbs. If you do running (which you can work up to) you will still need protein, but you'll also need more carbs as your heart rate is much higher than walking.

Finally, when you get to your target weight:

  • Set a "do not cross" scale weight within 5lb of your goal weight.
  • When you get close or actually cross that weight, cut out all carbs until you get back under it. You'll find it only takes about a day or two to reign it in when you are only talking a couple pounds.
  • Monitor your weight regularly--the earlier you catch the "do not cross" line the easier it is to fix.

As to the form of cardio, one is as good as another. The goal of cardio work is to get your heart rate up to a certain level, and your oxygen levels at a place where they can feed your muscles (i.e. aerobic workouts). Whether you use an elliptical, a treadmill, or actually go outside and walk, they are all equally good. I found that elliptical will get my heart rate higher with less work than the treadmill, but your mileage may vary.

  • Dear Berin, that is awesome. I am studying it carefully, THANKS.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:38

If you want to run, A place to start is couch to 5k (c25k) program. All you need is a good pair of running shoes, some water, and 30-40 minutes of free time three times a week.

I have lead a couple of c25k groups where I saw people who could barely walk 20 minutes at a brisk pace and had them jogging for 3.1 miles straight after a few weeks. These people were not going to break any world records, but they were out burning calories and seeing the world.

Depending on how out of shape you are, you may have to repeat weeks in the schedule. It is not a big deal if you do. Better to take it slow and build up than to rush and fail/get injured. You also need to realize that you are not going to be fast. You will probably be going at 12-14 mile/min pace when you start. It is slow, but speed comes with time.

If you need peer motivation, there are sites/message boards where people join and they can talk to each other about their progress. Also local running clubs in your area may also have group lead runs/programs. Our group meets at our work campus and runs at lunch twice a week.

  • Hello epascarello! THank you so much for your answer, I will study with great care and respond. You know, I used to (say, 20s) really enjoy running and I was good (never fast but good). My feeling is at the moment, my knees just wouldn't take it. In a sense, I'm looking for alternate aerobic exercise - hence wondering about these machines if they are any good. I'm very fortunate that I LIKE exercise and have no problem w/ discpline. My problem is really knowing "what" to do, most effectively with the time available. more l8r, thanks..
    – Fattie
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 7:28

The basic equation for losing fat is to burn more calories per day than you take in. The anecdote that they give trainers is that to lose 1 pound of pure fat per week, you need to burn 500 more calories than you take in per day. So if you are eating an otherwise normal 2000 calorie diet, you need to burn 2500 calories per day.

So, the #1 thing to do is to get your diet in order. It sounds like you are already well on the way to doing that. The top priority for any diet that has sustainable weight loss as a goal is to get rid of as much artificial and processed food as you can. This includes soda and other such things. Basically, if you look at a food and can't identify which plant or animal it came from, you probably shouldn't be eating it. Beyond that, you are going to want to make sure you have a good intake of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. The USDA says 5 a day...and really, that's about the bare minimum. You would be much better served by eating 10 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day.

These dietary notes are all very broad and general. If you're serious about getting rid of this weight for good, I would encourage you to find a personal trainer at a local gym and figure out some specifics based on your unique situation. I think this is particularly true for you for two main reasons.

  1. You're older. As we age, our body processes move less and less smoothly, and that includes metabolism. A professional can assess your body's ORGAN fitness, not just your MUSCLE fitness, and get an idea for what diets are appropriate. If you still have the stomach of a 20 year old, the calorie count may be all you care about. If you've developed a few quirks along the way, you might have to adhere to a more strict, digestible diet (such as the Paleo diet) to give your organs some time to patch themselves up.
  2. You're an engineer. I myself am a computer programmer, so I have something of an idea of how our minds work. We like numbers, we like knowing specifics, and we like being in control. A professional will be able to tell you, down to the single calorie, how many calories your body burns simply existing. They can also equip you with a heart monitor band and watch setup that will allow you to see exactly how many calories you are burning during any one workout. Some more advanced models can even break down your heart rate into workout zones so you can target your workout to hit the most fat-burning zones. I personally wear a Polar RS300 and love the crap out of it. I am never in the dark as to how many calories I need to eat.

Don't get me wrong. It's entirely possible for you to simply go out there, do the work, and see results. That is how I gained my first 10 pounds of muscle on my chronically underworked arms and chest. But at the end of the day you are making a lot of guesses about your situation when you do that. As an engineer myself, to not get the essential information seemed absolutely absurd. The equipment and initial appointments were not cheap (roughly $400 for my heart monitor, watch, fitness assessment, watch calibration, and 1 hour dietary advisory session), but now every day I KNOW that I am making progress toward my goals.

As for how hard you have to work out to reach the goals you stated, again it entirely depends upon your diet. If you are eating so many fibrous vegetables that you only have a few hundred calories to spare per day, you won't have to work very hard at all. If you are eating a lot, you will have to work very hard. You are on the right track with aerobic exercises like the ellipse to help your lung and heart tone. But the biggest thing is to stay interested. I'd encourage you to find as many as 5-6 exercises you enjoy simply so you can rotate them up so you don't feel like you're getting into a rut. If you get bored with your exercise, you will stop doing it. A few possible suggestions, take them or leave them as you please:

  • Powerwalking with the family pet
  • Jogging, especially with a friend or loved one
  • A heavy-weight punching bag (70+ lb, preferably one that comes with an intro DVD)
  • A climbing wall
  • Swimming
  • Chi-gong balance exercises

I'm sure that any trainer you'd talk to would also have plenty of suggestions.

And finally, as for what's better for your aerobic health, really what determines that is getting your heart to a strong pace and keeping it there for as long as possible. Again, what heart rate specifically will vary from person to person - my target heart rate is about 145 bpm for cardio training. Yours would likely be somewhat less simply because I'm younger, and heart rates tend to slow as we age. Again, a trainer would be able to tell you for sure, but to get started without paying a dime, you can check out this site for some of the most vital numbers.

  • 2
    And obviously, he should check back often with new questions as he makes progress :-)
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 23:03
  • Hi YYY, rest assured I am reading and studying every byte of your answer! More soon!! THANK YOU!
    – Fattie
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 7:26
  • Dear YYY. Thank you so much. i) fortunately I eat zero processed/fast/junk food. ii) fantastic advice on the watch-device. thanks. I will get one. (i love my wrist gps when hiking, for just the reasons you describe!) iii) in a foreign country presently, it's a little awkward to get a good trainer/initial advice. iv) you know I'm very lucky in that I don't get bored (picture Forrest Gump in the miltary with his ping pong :) ) I'd probably enjoy the "sameness" of a fixed routine. v) what you said about target heart rate .. that is obviously key, THANKS and thanks for the link..
    – Fattie
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 9:51
  • I love the heart rate monitor as well. It's really helpful, and encouraging as it helps you identify when your cardio health is improving. Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:43

I was in a similar state as you although about 9 years younger when I started, this is what is working for me.

  1. Got a dog and started taking it for walks at least 30 minutes each day, longer at weekends.
  2. Amended my diet to a more healthy one, cut out almost all sweets, cakes, pastries etc and switch to diet soda while increasing the fruit, veg I was eating.
  3. Joined a gym and got advice from one of their trainers. They advised me to initially have a mixed workout at least 3 times a week consisting of at least 30 minutes cardo and 30 weights circuit.

This has taken the weight off gradually which I've been told it better, to date about 3 years in I've lost around 9 inches off my waist.

  • Dear Alastair, that is incredible, thank you.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:38
  • Thanks Joe, I really think the walks (with or without a dog) got me kick started. I think initially if I went to the gym I would have been too embarrassed at my lack of fitness on the cardio machines.
    – Alastair
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 12:47
  • +1, i'm honestly moved by your story @Alastair. I love how you got a dog, and started taking it out for walks. Thumbs up ! Commented May 19, 2011 at 9:10
  • I managed to kick start the weight loss again by taking up powerlifting at the gym (deadlift, squat and benchpress).
    – Alastair
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 12:30

You may want to check out the Hacker's Diet. It includes some online monitoring tools that help quantify your progress in a meaningful way, and the exercises it uses are good, general-purpose ways to improve total fitness levels.

It was created by an engineer, and takes an algorithmic, logical approach to the weight-loss program.

Ultimately, exercise alone is a very difficult way to lose weight, but exercise combined with quantifiable data on how your exercise and what you eat affects your goals is working so far for me.


Lots of good answers in here so I will keep it simple.
1) Doing the same thing everyday will make you (and your body) bored with the stimulus. Instead try going Hard one day and Easy the next. Repeat and take off 1 day per week.
2) Start slowly and progressively build. The body takes a while to change. Keep track and try to say 10% per week with a "down" week every 3 to 4 weeks.
3) Definitely strength train either with or without weights.
4) Watch diet and increase water intake.

What that looks like is this...
Week 1
Day 1 - 45 minute cardio (Hard day)
Day 2 - 20 minute cardio (Easy day)
Day 3 - 20 minute cardio followed by 15 minute strength training (Hard day)
Day 4 - 20 minute cardio (Easy day)
Day 5 - 30 minute cardio (Hard day)
Day 6 - 20 minute cardio
Day 7 - rest

Sample Progression:
Day 1 - add 5 minutes a week until Week 4. Week 4 roll back to 45 minutes. Repeat with Week 5 beginning at 55 minutes.
Add 5 minutes a week to Day 5.
Add 1 more day of weight training
Keep the "Easy" days under 30 minutes.

Remember it is a "slow" progression if you truly want this to be life changing. These needs to become a lifestyle change and not just a short term fix. The slower the build, the less likely the burnout. Best of luck!

  • Der Christopher, that is spectacular thanks. I am studying what you said. I am still curious about the basic question - I now know I probably want to aim for a 65% "fitness zone" 120 heart beat, during exercise. Should I simply "walk hard" to do that, or is it much more advantageous to use one of these fancy new machines? Perhaps they give "more exercise" per unit time, perhaps they also tone your upper body as you go .. or maybe that's all nonsense: I don't know which - plain "hard walking" or "much better with a fancy machine".
    – Fattie
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 8:40

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