So how much exercise per week is required for health benefits? And which types of exercise should you favor?
This article will answer these questions. Plus you’ll learn practical tips to enhance your exercise routine. Let’s dive in.
How Much Exercise Should You Get Per Week?
In 2018, the US Department of Health and Human Services assembled the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee to review the scientific literature on exercise. The goal was to determine the level of exercise required for “substantial health benefits.”[*]
We’ll get to those benefits in a moment, but first, let’s review the recommendations.
Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) for Adults Per Week:
- 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise (fast walking, doubles tennis, water aerobics, etc.)
- 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (jogging, cycling, swimming, basketball)
- An equal blend of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise
- At least two days per week of strength training
Main Types Of Exercise and Their Benefits
Here we’ll break exercise into four broad categories: aerobic, strength, HIIT, and mobility. Each category has important benefits.
#1: Aerobic Exercise
Also called cardiovascular (cardio) or endurance exercise, aerobic exercise refers to activities that increase the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during physical activity. In other words, these activities (jogging, swimming, running, etc.) increase your aerobic capacity. (Note: aerobic capacity is measured by VO2 max, with higher VO2 max denoting better aerobic fitness).
- Lower heart disease risk
- Lower risk of high blood pressure
- Lower diabetes risk
- Lower risk of high cholesterol
- Lower risk of various cancers
- Improved mood, reduced anxiety, and reduced depression
- Weight loss and prevention of weight regain
- Better sleep
- Stronger bones
- Lower risk of death
Let’s highlight that last point. In one study, people who had “above average” aerobic capacity (as measured by treadmill testing) had a 60% to 70% reduced risk of death compared to people in the “low” aerobic capacity group.[*]
How much aerobic exercise per week should you do? To hit your 150 minutes, you only need to do about 21 minutes per day. Aim for 30 to be safe.
#2: Strength Training
If you want to maintain (or gain) muscle, you have to strength train. It’s non-negotiable, especially in our later years.
As we age, we lose muscle more rapidly. A person with age-related muscle loss (called sarcopenia) not only has less functional mobility, but also a lower quality of life.[*] Regular resistance training staves off sarcopenia while simultaneously reducing the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.[*]
#3: High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
If you want to age healthfully, you’ll want to add HIIT to your exercise routine. These intense bursts of exercise (sprints, fast swimming, interval cycling, etc.) have been shown to reduce age-related decline in muscle tissue and improve aerobic capacity more than other forms of exercise.[*]
Since HIIT boosts aerobic capacity, it can be considered a form of aerobic exercise. Yet HIIT is also a form of anaerobic exercise because it demands other forms of fuel (like glucose) beyond oxygen.[*] However you classify it, sprinting once or twice per week can be a boon to your health.
#4: Flexibility, mobility, and stability training
Activities that boost flexibility, mobility, and stability help us stay robust as we age. These activities include:
Activities like yoga not only improve flexibility but also aerobic capacity and strength. It’s nice to get multiple benefits at once.
How Much Exercise Per Week to Lose Weight?
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Regular exercise may help you lose or maintain weight, but the effect is smaller than you might think.
The literature suggests that moderate doses of exercise (in accordance with the PAG) are unlikely to produce clinically significant weight loss.[*] (According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you need more than 225 minutes per week of aerobic exercise to achieve this goal.)[*] Adding strength training to the regimen might help, but the science isn’t clear on this point.
The takeaway? Focus on diet for weight loss and love exercise for its other benefits.
How Diet Relates to Exercise
You need amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to synthesize muscle. Without these building blocks, you’d wither away.
It’s also wise to calibrate your caloric intake (and protein intake) to your activity level. The higher your activity level, the more calories and protein you’ll need.
If you want to lose weight, dial down the calories a bit. If you want to gain muscle, dial them up. Use the Carb Manager app to measure, manage, and optimize this process.
Tips for Staying Active in the Modern World
You don’t need a customized workout program to benefit from exercise. You just need to stay active throughout the day.
When you stay active throughout the day, you’ll hit 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week without even trying. Add a couple of strength training sessions, a yoga class, and a few sprints, and you’ll be good to go.
Here are some tips for staying active in today’s world:
- Walk everywhere you can. Don’t take the elevator when you can take the stairs.
- Use a standing desk.
- Take regular work breaks for jumping jacks, push-ups, pull-ups, stretching, or walks.
- Keep a grip strengthener handy. (Fun tip: offer it to your friends and smile sympathetically when they can’t squeeze it. Then take it back and crush it 4-5 times with each hand before changing the topic).
- Develop a regular yoga or pilates habit. These activities deliver many benefits.
- Install a home gym. Your monetary commitment will obligate you to follow through.
Feeling inspired? Harness that inspiration and do something active right now. Most people don’t get enough exercise, but you don’t have to be one of them.