How much exercise do you really need?

Story by Meredith Nelson / March 1, 2021

Meredith Nelson; PrimeTime Fitness, LLC

The American Heart Association recommends that Americans “get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.”  For moderate exercise, that equates to 30 minutes a day for five days a week.   For vigorous exercise, that means 25 minutes of vigorous exercise for three days a week.  The AHA website also states that adults can “gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.”*

The American Cancer Society recently updated their guidelines for the recommended amount of exercise for adults to state that one should strive to “get 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these).”  The recommendation goes on to state that “getting to or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is ideal.”**

How did it make you feel to read those numbers and recommendations?  Is your head spinning?  Are you thinking “I’ll never get to 300 minutes (five hours) a week, so why bother?”  Are you feeling overwhelmed about taking that first step?

I am in no way discounting either the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society.  Their recommendations, although slightly different, are golden.  But before you write off these numbers as being lofty and unrealistic, I think it’s important to consider a few things, such as your current level of exercise, your amount of time available to exercise, and of course, your own personal goals.

  • What is your current level of exercise? 

If you are a beginning exerciser, don’t let these large numbers scare you into remaining sedentary.  Start small – even ten minutes a day is better than nothing.  Add five minutes a week and within a month you’ll be up to 30 minutes!

For the more fit, I agree that up to an hour a day, five days or more each week, is going to be the most beneficial.

  • What are your goals?

Do you want to reduce your risk of chronic disease?   Lose weight?  Perform better in a specific sport? Each of these goals calls for different amounts and intensities of exercise.  To reduce your risk of disease, you can probably accomplish that by simply meeting the minimum requirements (remember to build up, if you are just starting your exercise program!).  To lose weight, you may need to strive to go beyond the minimum.  And to improve in a sport, you may need to exercise up to several hours a day (depending on the sport and level of performance)!

  • How much time can you set aside for exercise?

We all have the same amount of time in one day, so it’s not always a matter of “finding” time, but instead, of “making the time.”  If you can honestly say that you don’t have much time every day to exercise, then you may need to make the minutes count and increase the intensity as opposed to the duration, and exercise at a more vigorous level for a shorter amount of time.  However, if you can make time every day to exercise, you can keep the intensity lower but for a longer duration or more days per week.

With all this being said, there are two caveats:

  • Exercise – no matter how intense – does not work unless it is done consistently.  If you are not consistent in your activity, you will not see results.  Bottom line… exercise has to be performed on MOST days of the week, no matter what the intensity level.  Try not to go more than two days in a row with no exercise!
  • Until now, all I have said is that you need to “exercise.”  But what does that mean, exactly?  There isn’t enough room in this entire publication to address that – so I’ll just say that your body loves variety, and will respond to change.  The more you can mix up your exercise, the better, and the more quickly you will see results.  If you go for a run/walk one day, try lifting weights the next.  No gym?  No problem – the internet is full of bodyweight exercises that can be done at home with no equipment.  Throw in some yoga or cycling. 

Bottom line:  Sweat.  Get a little winded.  Everyday, if possible.  And mix it up!

*   taken from the American Heart Association website

**taken from the American Cancer Society website

Meredith Nelson is the owner of PrimeTime Fitness, LLC, and has been in the fitness industry since 1992.  She can help you achieve your fitness and nutrition goals either in person or online!