To be able to answer this question you need to know the goal of the person who asks it. Is it “how much exercise do I need to lose weight?” or “How much should I exercise to be healthy?”
The answer to the first depends on your diet, your lifestyle and, in the bottom line, on what works for you. You need to try different amounts of exercise and see how much you need to start shedding pounds.
The answer to the second question is a more objective one and we can find a number of citations and guidelines that we can use as the basis of our reply.
It should be noted that there is an abundance of research on this question and it’s impossible to discuss it all in this one post. So, I will base this post on the most respected and trustworthy sources that I found. I believe that the guidelines I present here will be perfect for anyone who is concerned about their health and willing to take the appropriate steps to preserve it.
1996 – NIH Releases It’s Guidelines on Physical Activity
Back in 1996, a panel at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) released a set of guidelines for physical activity for health purposes . This panel based it’s guidelines on information presented by experts from a variety of fields: sports, psychology, exercise physiology, nutrition, geriatrics, and more. This was a serious effort to release a set of guidelines in a simplified format that regular folks could take and apply quickly.
The recommendations included a number of important points:
1. Many Americans had no physical activity to speak of in their daily routine.
2. Moderate physical activity can provide dramatic health benefits.
3. People should do 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity nearly every day.
Note: this 30 minute rule is something that works for weight loss as well. Check out my post on the 30 minute fat loss trick.
What you can learn from these guidelines is that you don’t need to do super-intense workouts to reap the health benefits physical activity provides.
What’s important is that you need to be active on a daily basis. You can’t just do 1-2 very intense workouts each week. You need to exercise for 30 minutes per day, or nearly every day. Simply make your lifestyle into a more active one.
You may be wondering why I mentioned a report that was published in 1996, 15 years ago. For one thing, it is still relevant. Our physical needs haven’t changed much. For another, I wanted to show you that the more current guidelines are based on research that is well-founded and has been going on for quite some time now.
The 1996 NIH report, and additional ones by other institutions around that time, spurred a great amount of research into the effect of exercise on health. The goal was to discover just how much exercise per week should men and women do to achieve significant improvement in their health and life expectancy.
An interesting study from 2002 looked at the influence of the exact type of exercise on the prevalence of coronary heart disease in men . So, now we aren’t just talking about exercise in general, we’re breaking it down to its components.
The results showed that different activities all contribute to a reduction in coronary heart disease:
- A 42% risk reduction for men who ran 1 hour per week.
- An 18% reduction for those who walked for 30 minutes or so each day. The rate needs to be brisk.
- An 18% reduction for those who rowed for 1 hour per week.
- A 23% reduction for those who did weight lifting exercises for 30 minutes per week.
So, this study showed how cardio workouts and strength training are both important to your health. You need to do both. Another study which examined women found that there a higher level of physical activity resulted in a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality . This means that while moderate activity is beneficial, more vigorous activity (up to a point) may produce even better results.
The 2007 ACSM – AHA Provides Additional Information
This time the guidelines were more specific and included the following:
- To improve and preserve your health you need to do an aerobic workout of moderate intensity for 30 minutes at least five times a week or perform a vigorous workout for 20 minutes minimum three times a week.
- You can combine both moderate and vigorous workouts to meet this “quota”. For instance, you can ride a recumbent bike at a moderate pace twice a week and do an intense run on two other days.
- You can also accumulate your workout minutes, as long as each exercise session is 10 minutes long at least. So, you can do a short cardio workout before breakfast, and another 20 minutes after work.
- You need to do workouts which maintain your muscular strength and endurance twice a week at a minimum. This means that weight lifting is not just for looks. It’s also important to your health.
- The report showed that you may benefit further by increasing the workout frequency or intensity even further.
What the US Government Says
Finally, let’s take a look at what the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has to say about the question of how much exercise you should do.
Similarly to the report by ACSM, the guidelines recommend a moderate aerobic activity for 2.5 hours per week (the equivalent of 30 minutes for 5 days) or 75 minutes of intense activity. You can combine the two.
If you double that amount, to 5 hours of moderate activity or 2.5 hours of vigorous one, you may achieve greater health benefits.
In addition, each healthy adult needs to do two sessions of resistance training per week. May I recommend that you take a look at these total body workout routines which I created? They will give you some great options.
What Is Too Much Exercise
There is no one objective answer to this question. There are too many factors that weigh in. You need to see how you feel with various frequencies and intensities of exercise and consult with your doctor if need be.
I hope that this post answered your question of how much exercise you should do per week. What kind of exercise do you do? Let me know in the comments below.
1. Physical activity and cardiovascular health. NIH Consensus Development Panel on Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health. JAMA. 1996 Jul 17;276(3):241-6.
2. Exercise type and intensity in relation to coronary heart disease in men. Tanasescu M, Leitzmann MF, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. JAMA. 2002 Oct 23-30;288(16):1994-2000.
3. Physical activity and mortality: a prospective study among women. Rockhill B, Willett WC, Manson JE, Leitzmann MF. Am J Public Health. 2001 Apr;91(4):578-83.
4. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Aug;39(8):1423-34.