How Often Should I Exercise?

Regular exercise has a variety of health and fitness benefits. You can maintain and improve your heart health, improve your HDL, or “good cholesterol,” levels, maintain or lose weight and improve sports performance.

Depending on your goals, you’ll need to work out different amounts and with varying frequency. As little as 10 minutes of exercise, several times each day during a mini-workout, can help you meet your goals.

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For Heart Health
Organizations like the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control recommend 150 minutes per week of moderately intense exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. Moderately intense exercise would be similar to a power walk, while vigorous activity would be jogging on a treadmill at approximately 5 mph or faster. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise at a time, five times a week.

If you can’t manage to exercise five times each week or for 30 minutes, do what you can. Taking a brisk walk or getting on an exercise bike for 15 minutes can help. Playing tennis, jogging or swimming once a week is beneficial — just don’t push yourself and try to get in a week’s worth of exercise in one session.

NOTE: According to the American Heart Association, three, 10-minute workouts during the day provides the same benefit as a 30-minute workout.

For Weight Loss
Exercising for weight loss will only work if you control your calories. You will probably need to raise your workout times to 60 minutes per session for significant weight loss. This may be too much for many people at first, so learn how to get into exercise by reading our article on Beginner Workouts

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Try to create exercise sessions five days per week if you want to lose 1 to 2 pounds of weight per week, which is the maximum healthy weight-loss goal recommended by credible health organizations. If you can work out in front of the TV for 30 minutes before dinner most nights and do more or longer vigorous activity on the weekend, that will help. If you’re grazing, your afternoon snack will help prevent you from coming home so famished you can’t wait for dinner and be too full to exercise afterwards. Having a healthy afternoon snack at the office will prevent you from coming home “starved,” eating dinner, then feeling too full to work.

For Improved Cholesterol
Your blood cholesterol includes low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which is your “bad cholesterol,” and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good cholesterol.” HDL can actually reverse some of the impact of LDL. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular aerobic exercise raises your HDL levels. You’ll also get the added benefits of burning calories and strengthening your heart.

Less Can Be More
Rather than trying to do an intense, one-hour workout once or twice each week, try to schedule 10- to 15-minute workouts, as simple as power walking, biking, walking stairs or hula hooping. If you only budget time for two 30- or 60-minute workouts each week and you have to cancel one, you’ll go a week without exercise. Doing shorter workouts may be easier to do more often.

You can break your workouts into 10-minute session, two or three times each day. According to the American Heart Association, “Research shows that moderate-intensity physical activity can be accumulated throughout the day in 10-minute bouts, which can be just as effective as exercising for 30 minutes straight.”

Regular weight-bearing exercise also helps improve bone health, especially important for adult women and seniors. Use dumbbells or resistance bands to perform 10 to 15 repetitions of exercises that work your arms, leg and core, and include strength training twice each week.

Additional Resources

American College of Sports Medicine: Basic Recommendations From ACSM and American Heart Association

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