How much should we be exercising? Here's what experts say.

How much exercise do we really need? Here's what experts say. (Photo: Getty Creative)
How much exercise do we really need? Here's what experts say. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Whether it's lifting weights at the gym, doing yoga or simply taking leisurely walks, there’s no question that more and more people are turning to movement as a fundamental way to take care of their bodies.

Exercise routines, however, tend to differ drastically from person to person — so how does one know the right amount of exercise they need to make sure they’re staying as healthy as possible? According to experts, there are a few basic guidelines to follow.

The good news for people who loathe working out? Technically, you never need to do a formal workout in order to function well. Personal trainer Tony Coffey, owner of Bloom Training, notes, “Survival isn’t dependent on exercise, but merely getting enough from a nutritional component to support total daily energy expenditure.” Exercise, however, is tied to “longevity.”

“Total daily movement and overall muscle mass is largely tied to lifespan,” he explains. “The less you move through the day, and the less muscle mass you tend to carry, the shorter you live.”

Dr. Alexis Coslick, a sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist for Johns Hopkins Medicine, says that it’s currently unclear how much exercise one needs to survive. But in order to “decrease the risk of chronic disease and mortality,” one should aim for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s official recommendation, which, she says, is “150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise and two days of muscle strengthening."

This metric means that you can essentially pick and choose how much you want to exercise. If you’re a person who prefers a sweaty HIIT class a few days a week, you can easily achieve those 75 minutes within three days. Those who prefer activities like walking or bike riding, which do not get the heart rate up as high, can engage in their moderate exercise more frequently, or for longer stretches of time.

Michele Olson, a clinical professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Alabama, says that for people who do not enjoy exercise, it may be easier to look at step count. She suggests aiming for 7,000 steps per day if you want to stay active without engaging in any formal workouts.

Coffey agrees that walking can be a great first step for those who are exercise adverse.

“​​Walking is low-impact, not very time consuming, and is closely related to increased cognition, mood, glycemic control, and decreased risk of all-cause mortality, blood pressure and postprandial triglycerides,” he notes. “It is the easiest thing you can do to improve overall health from a movement and exercise standpoint.”

As for how much exercise one needs for the goal of losing weight, Coffey says it “completely depends on the individual, how much weight they’re aiming to lose and what their overall diet and lifestyle looks like.”

“My starting recommendation for exercise requirements to make weight loss a whole lot easier is three to four days a week of weight training, while keeping daily step count relatively high,” he says.

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