How much exercise should I get each week?

Mr. Donovan Green
Athletic Training Specialist

Exercise is an essential part of living a healthier life. I encounter many people who say they don't have time to exercise due to busy schedules at work or taking care of family. Either way you look at it, those are just excuses. You should be able to squeeze in at least 20 minutes of exercise each day at a low to moderate intensity. You can go at a higher intensity if you are more experienced with exercise.

For substantial health benefits, you should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend spreading your activity out during the week and even breaking it up into smaller periods of time each day. That way, 150 minutes of activity may not seem so overwhelming. It all counts as long as you're keeping a moderate or quick pace for at least a 10-minute session each time.

If you have any concerns about starting a fitness program, remember to check with your doctor.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

The Surgeon General’s Office recommends that you engage in a minimum of 75 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity, or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. Moderate activity is defined as activity during which you can still talk and answer questions. Vigorous activity is defined as an exercise in which you can no longer talk and answer questions due to the intensity of the exercise. Engaging in more than the minimum will allow you to gain increased health benefits, but at the minimum you should engage in 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of intense exercise. 

Mark Levine
Fitness Specialist

The amount of exercise you get each week depends on your current physical condition. If you have been exercising and are in good shape, I would recommend up to an hour of exercise a day. I recommend exercising five days a week with two days off to let your body and muscles recuperate.

If you are new to exercise, I would first have your physician give you the OK to start an exercise program. An exercise program consists of cardio training and strength training in addition to balance and core work. I recommend that you start with thirty minutes a day of exercise. This doesn't have to be all at the same time. You can walk for 15 minutes in the morning, and then in the evening you can strength train for 15 minutes. Also, I recommend exercising 3 to 4 times a week and taking it slow until you build up endurance.

Joan Roth , NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

The amount of exercise one should get each week truly depends on several variables including the age and overall condition of the person, as well as his/her goals, so it's difficult to generalize.

Using the F.I.T.T.E. guidelines can help clarify. The National Academy of Sports Medicine references the following recommendations for the development of an appropriate exercise program:

  • Frequency (how often) - almost every day of the week for short quantities of time
  • Intensity (how hard) - moderate enough to increase heart rate and respiratory rates
  • Time (how long) - 20 to 60 minutes a day, depending on goals
  • Type - any kind of activity from gardening to weight training
  • Enjoyment - the program and its activities should coincide with the personality, likes and dislikes of the client.

For most healthy adults, a mix of flexibility training and cardiorespiratory training, along with strength and conditioning work, will provide a nice balance of exercise each week. Your specific fitness goals will dictate how these general guidelines need to be altered.

What's most important is making regular physical activity part of your lifestyle.

The more you move your limbs, the better. Walking for 20 minutes 5 days a week can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes. However, be careful not to overstress your body and joints, and always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is trying to do too much in the beginning. Consistency is much better than how much you do. Who cares if you do 2 hrs a day if in a month or two you are no longer exercising? It is much more productive to do 20 to 30 minutes in the beginning and be consistent with it and gradually build it up over time. The amount that you should do is very individualized, but my point is consistency is more important than the time. Too much exercise in the beginning can be too much for most people and the rate of burnout can be quite high. However, a moderate amount of exercise that someone enjoys and doesn't cramp their style causes a greater likelihood of them staying with the program.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend:

  1. Adults get 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) and two days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
  2. Older adults should also add exercises to improve balance on three days each week.
  3. Adults can also meet the aerobic activity recommendation by getting 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity activity each week, or by getting an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.

Most adults don’t get enough physical activity. While 150 minutes may sound like a lot of time, you don’t have to do it all at once. Spread your activity out over the week. Pick activities you like so that it is easier to stick with it. Break it up into smaller chunks of at least 10 minutes during the day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.