How often should I exercise?

Beth Oliver
Fitness Specialist

This is a great question, with lots of varying opinions. It’s actually accepted that you should aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days.

Ideally everyday. In fact there are many activities you are likely doing throughout the day to move your body and count as exercise—house work, gardening, playing with kids, etc. Several professional guidelines for adults recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, which can be broken down, even to 10 minutes at a time. Examples may include walking fast, biking with some hills or mowing the lawn (riding lawnmower doesn't count). For strength training, 2 or more days a week are suggested. This consists of working all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdominals, chest, shoulders, arms) using some form of resistance such as body weight, bands or gym equipment. Flexibility/stretching is also an important daily component.

John Blievernicht
Fitness Specialist

It is strongly recommended that you try to make exercise part of your daily routine. It may just be a walk to the store or raking the yard on some days. At a minimum, try and do 2 to 3 days of more formal type workouts per week. If you are feeling over-trained, do a short workout of gentle flexibility exercises.

It’s recommended that you exercise about five times a week for 30 minutes a day or 25 minutes of vigourous activity three times a week. 

You should make it a point to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. Cross training helps build your overall fitness and helps you to not get injured. It also keeps things interesting. Use body core exercises to strengthen trunk, pelvis and lower back and better balance; strength training for stronger muscles and bones and aerobic exercise for stronger heart and lungs.

Dr. Holly S. Andersen, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

It’s recommended that people get 150 minutes of exercise each week. If you don’t have time for all of that at once, do 5 to 10 minutes here and there. It’s better to do 20, 30 or 40 minutes of physical activity a day than to do two and a half hours on Sunday. If you aim for that daily schedule, you are more likely to succeed and keep it up than somebody who says, “I can only do 45 minutes of working out in one day.” Doing 10 minutes a day versus nothing over a week, a month or a year makes a huge difference. Physical activity is the fountain of youth. Any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up is good for you.

It is recommended to exercise 5 to 7 days per week. Each of those days should contain some type of cardiorespiratory performed at a moderate intensity. Two to three of those days should contain resistance training. In addition, each day should contain flexibility training. Set aside roughly an hour for each workout session.

Well how much you exercise is really depending on what your goals are and what you want to achieve in a certain time frame. As I tell my clients, if you want to make a lifestyle change, you should do it everyday, just like brushing teeth. So at least get in 30 minutes of cardio 3 times per week along with a good resistance training program 3 to 5 times per week. However, talking to a fitness professional and mapping out your goals for you and they will tell you how much you should workout and how long it will take to get there.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Just through everyday life, your body fries more fat than a fast-food cook. In fact, your body is a natural fat-burner. You burn calories all the time—whether you're gardening, reading or going to the bathroom. For optimum health, you'll do enough physical activity (exercise) to burn between 3,500 and 6,500 calories a week (or from 500 to about 950 a day). Most of that calorie burn comes from everyday activities without you even trying to burn calories.

But the scientific data shows that, in addition to those calories you burn from general physical activities, you also need about 60 minutes a week of stamina training—that is, a cardiovascular activity that elevates your heart rate to 70 percent or more of your age-adjusted maximum (220 minus your age) for an extended period of time.

Ultimately, the stamina training necessary to obtain optimum health (more is needed for getting in great shape but not needed for health) comes in the form of only three 20-minute workouts per week at this heart rate.

The funny thing is that once you go over 60 or so minutes, there's no more benefit to your body from a longevity standpoint. And by burning more than 6,500 calories a week, you actually decrease your longevity because of the wear and tear your body endures going through the rigors of additional exercise. For example, a 55-year-old man who burns 6,500 calories a week has the body of a 47-year-old man, while a 55-year-old man who burns more than that only has the body of a 52-year-old man. Only three 20-minute workouts might not be the best regimen for someone who needs to lose 90 pounds or wants to win the Boston Marathon, but it is the best choice for living younger and living longer over the long run.

That 20-minute workout is defined as 20 minutes of sustained activity that leads to being slightly out of breath, or enough to break a sweat during that time. We know that you have responsibilities to jobs, kids and the 3-foot-high weeds in the backyard, but it's good to be selfish when it comes to taking time for exercise-especially when you realize you'll be in better shape to take care of your kids or parents. If you're in a time crunch, I suggest setting the alarm clock back 30 minutes. The earlier you can exercise, the fewer distractions you'll have to deter you from doing it later in the day.

YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

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Exercise delivers powerful, wide-ranging health benefits, but to reap its full rewards you must perform several different types of activities on a regular basis. Here is what to aim for as you plan your exercise routine:

  • Aerobic: Accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or an equivalent mix of the two. Sustain activities for at least 10 minutes at a time.
  • Strength: Do strength exercises for all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdominals, shoulders, arms) at least twice weekly. Repeat each exercise 8 to 12 times per set, aiming for two to three sets. Rest muscles for at least 48 hours between strength training sessions.
  • Balance: For older adults at risk for falls and others concerned about osteoporosis, include activities that enhance balance, such as tai chi or yoga, at least twice a week.
  • Flexibility: Stretching or other flexibility-enhancing exercises, preferably on days when you do aerobic or strength activities, or at least twice a week. Hold stretches for 10 to 30 seconds, repeating each stretch three to four times.

You can meet these goals in a variety of ways. The most successful exercise program is the one well suited to you. To give yourself the best odds of sticking with exercise, stack the deck in your favor by finding a blend of activities you enjoy and a schedule you can stick with over the long haul. Start out gradually, set realistic goals and reward yourself for accomplishments along the way.

Dr. F. Michael Gloth, III
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

You should try to exercise at least 3 days per week. With this as the goal, many people plan to exercise 5 days a week, knowing that one or two sessions might be missed. If you make all five sessions, you will feel particularly rewarded and reduce the time needed to reach your target weight and fitness level.

Fit at Fifty and Beyond: A Balanced Exercise and Nutrition Program (A DiaMedica Guide to Optimum Wellness)

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No matter how busy a life you lead, I believe you should find time to fit in a regular exercise routine. You should be engaging in a physical activity at least thirty minutes or more at least three days a week that gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe a little harder. It doesn’t have to be overly strenuous and you don’t have to start training for a marathon or Olympic event. Whether it’s a structured class at a gym, power walking with friends in the morning, dancing or renting DVDs with the latest from fitness trainers, there are lots of options. Get creative and have fun with your activity.

Don’t make it a chore, and don’t make yourself miserable by doing something you hate. Exercise should be enjoyable—an outlet for stress rather than a trigger. Also bear in mind that many forms of exercise can involve your family and friends, which can be very motivating and offer an added benefit, especially psychologically.

Make today the day to at least do one thing (maybe two) more active than yesterday, and see if you can accumulate thirty minutes to an hour total of time spent getting your heart rate up. It’s totally up to you in what you choose to do, and can be as easy as tuning in to your favorite tunes on an iPod and hitting the neighborhood pavement for a fast-paced walk.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali, CPT, NASM Elite Trainer
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

The American College of Sports Medicine as well as the United States 2008 Guidelines for Physical Activity recommend the following:

US Physical Activity Guidelines:
Adults: For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.

For additional and more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond this amount.

Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits. 

American College of Sports Medicine:
To promote and maintain health, moderate intensity exercise should be performed for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days a week to a total of 150 minutes, or vigorous intensity aerobic exercise done for at least 20 to 25 minutes on 3 or more days a week to a total of 75 minutes, or at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate and vigorous intensity exercise on 3 to 5 days a week is recommended for most adults. To promote or maintain weight loss 50 to 60 minutes to a total 300 minutes moderate, 150 minutes vigorous or an equivalent combination of daily exercise is recommended. Performance of intermittent exercise for at least 10 minutes in duration to accumulate the minimum duration recommendations above is an effective alternative to continuous exercise.

Resistance Training:
Resistance training of each major muscle 2 to 3 days a week with at least 48 hours separating the exercise training sessions for the same muscle group is recommended for all adults.

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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.