This Is Exactly How Much Exercise You Need Per Week—and Why It's So Darn Important

Your official weekly (and daily) exercise breakdown.

You’ve heard it time and time again: Exercise is good for you. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve heard all about exercise recommendations from your doctor, online, fitness-loving friends, and everyone in between. But what do these recommendations involve, exactly? How much exercise do you really need per week and per day—and can you realistically apply these healthy guidelines to your everyday life? To find out how much to workout for optimal health, we asked doctors and fitness experts what getting enough exercise looks like, plus tips for meeting physical activity guidelines.

How Much Exercise Do I Need Per Week (and Per Day)? 

Given the long list of exercise health benefits, it’s no surprise that physical activity is something we need to do each and every week. 

Weekly Exercise Recommendations

According to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): Adults need at least: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic physical activity) each week. 

Adults also need muscle-strengthening exercises (such as resistance training or weight lifting) at least two days per week. 

At first glance, these numbers might seem intimidating. But the good news is that there’s no single formula for achieving these guidelines, nor do you have to do it all at once, says William Li, MD, physician, scientist, and author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.

Daily Exercise Recommendations

You can split up those 150 minutes (or 75 high-intensity minutes) however you’d like, but the most common recommendation is to spread your aerobic activity throughout the week: getting exercise for 30 minutes per day, five days a week. (Though it’s definitely OK if some weeks you need to “catch up” on exercise and squeeze the majority of your movement in, say, over the weekend). 

Not only does this give your body time to recover between workouts, but it also makes it easier to fit into your schedule—you can exercise for fewer minutes per day, and also ensure you’re getting in some physical activity most days of the week.

On a daily basis, you can divide those 30 minutes even further. The effects of exercise are cumulative, and short bouts of physical activity can still benefit both the body and mind, explains Anne Brady, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at University of North Carolina Greensboro. “It can be beneficial to intentionally spread exercise throughout the day, particularly if a 30-minute session is a barrier to even beginning exercise,” she says.

Moreover, your workouts don’t need to look the same every day (or week) in order to be beneficial—in fact, both your brain and body can benefit from some variety in your exercise routine. In other words, exercise doesn’t have to be boring! As Dr. Li notes, the benefits of exercise stem from the increased muscle work, breathing, and heart rate that occurs during activity, rather than the specific type of activity. So don’t be afraid to switch things up, whether that means alternating between your favorite activities (cycling, hiking, or jogging outdoors), a trip to the gym for strength training, or streaming a dance class workout video in your living room. As long as you’re moving, it’s all good.

Should everyone exercise the same amount? 

As with all health-related activities and suggestions, 150 minutes of exercise per week is more of a guide post and is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Some people may have different requirements, including those who are older or have chronic conditions, injuries, or physical limitations. If any of these factors apply to you, check with a healthcare professional to determine how much exercise and what type of exercise is safe for you. The same goes if you’re new to exercise in general. In this scenario, consider low-impact or lower intensity activities rather than reducing the time spent moving, Brady suggests, so you’ll be able to focus on frequency (and build the habit) before working on other factors like intensity and duration.

Health Benefits of Getting Enough Exercise

Regardless of your age, fitness goals, or health status, staying active is one of the most important things you can do for your health. The best part? You don’t need to run a marathon or lift double your weight to reap the benefits of exercise. Simply moving on a regular basis will support myriad aspects of your health, including your mental, emotional, and physical wellness.

Exercise boosts the immune system.

For starters, getting the recommended amount of exercise reduces inflammation and improves blood flow, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity, according to Dr. Li. It also boosts immune function and stimulates stem cells to trigger regeneration, a key process for tissue development and repair. Together, these effects improve your body’s defenses, ultimately lowering your risk for catching not only common bugs and viruses, but also chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer, Dr. Li says 

Exercise benefits heart and brain health.

And that's just scratching the surface. As exercise increases blood flow, it delivers more oxygen to the heart and brain, paving the way for more mental and physical and energy. The heightened blood flow to the brain is also responsible for the mental benefits of exercise, such as improved mood, memory, reduced stress, and cognitive function.

Exercise helps prevent injuries and instability.

Exercise can also reduce the risk of injuries, Brady says. That’s because physical activity, especially resistance training, maintains and strengthens muscles, helping you move through the world with more ease. The movements involved in exercise also improve your range of motion and joint mobility, helping your body adapt to new movement patterns, she says. In turn, you’ll have a lower risk of getting injured when reaching or bending in certain ways, she adds. Needless to say, exercise can do a lot.

Exercise supports better nightly sleep.

Additionally, regular exercise can help you get better sleep, making it an essential part of developing healthy sleep hygiene and catching quality shut-eye. 

How to Get Enough Exercise

Now you know how much exercise you need per week—but how do you meet the mark? Understandably, incorporating physical activity into your schedule might seem like a tall order, especially if you're new to exercise or super busy.

“Think about [your] own day and what would work,” Brady says. For example, if you work from home or at a 9-to-5 job, try walking for 10 minutes after waking up, 10 minutes at lunch time, and 10 minutes after dinner. Or, “if you have constraints at home but more flexibility during the day, consider setting up a timer on your phone for every 90 to 120 minutes to cue yourself to get up and walk five to 10 minutes,” recommends Dr. Brady. “If you do this [three times a day], you’ll accumulate 15 to 30 minutes of walking.”

But again, you’re not limited to walking. There are many options for moderate-intensity exercise (think: exercise where your body is exerting decent effort, but you’re not totally panting or unable to hold a conversation), such as casual biking, leisurely swimming, gardening, and even vacuuming (hello, multi-tasking!). This means you could do any combo of these activities and still get the recommended minimum amount of exercise. Or if you’re short on time, you could do more vigorous workouts (think more intense bicycling, jogging/running, jumping rope, doing a HIIT circuit, or playing sports like tennis) for less time.

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