By Virginia Gurley, MD, MPH

Hi. I’m Dr. Eddie Phillips. I’m a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine and board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. My patients often ask me “How much exercise should I get each week?”

We all have busy lives. And it can be challenging to set aside time for a trip to the health club, exercise class or just to get outside for some physical activity. But you may not need to spend as much time as you think to enjoy health benefits from your exercise.

Do you know that just 150 minutes each week of moderately intense aerobic activity delivers solid health benefits? That’s according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For many people, that works out to 30 minutes of brisk walking, 5 days a week.
By the way, aerobic activity is exercise at an intensity level that increases oxygen consumption and heart rate. This improves the functioning of you cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

I know what you might be thinking. With all that you have to juggle during the day, you often don’t have 30 minutes for a single daily workout.
That’s okay, because you can achieve the same results by performing chunks of moderate exercise in 10-minute blocks each day for that 30 minute target.
Who doesn’t have 10 minutes here and there?

Here’s another option if you’re in good health and can handle it. Try tackling some vigorous aerobic activity to cut your workout time in half. That would be a total of 75 minutes a week.
Of course, you can do an equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous exercise. So your varied workout would total between 75 and 150 minutes per week.

What are moderate and vigorous activities or exercises?
For example, walking your dog briskly is a moderate activity. Racewalking or jogging with your dog is a vigorous activity.
Bicycling on a flat pathway qualifies as a moderate level. But bicycling on a hilly trail or road is definitely a vigorous activity.
How about gardening? Well, activities like raking and pushing a power lawnmower are considered moderate level. But shoveling snow, chopping firewood and pushing a non-motorized lawnmower are vigorous activities.
General guidelines defining moderate versus vigorous activities and exercise are widely available, such as from your physician, at your health club or online on the Center for Disease Control’s Web site in the category of “physical activity.”

Back to the amount of time you spend exercising… If you’re able to double the time you spend exercising, the guidelines indicate that five hours (or 300 minutes) of moderate aerobic activity a week will give you even more extensive health benefits.

In addition to aerobic workouts, experts also recommend twice-weekly strength training sessions for all major muscle groups. This might include working out using various weight machines or free weights at the club or at your home or doing body weight exercises, such as push-ups, wherever you are.
Additionally, it’s a very good idea to include balance exercises if you’re an older adult, especially one at risk of falling.

The right amount of exercise depends on your current physical and health condition. That’s why it’s a good idea to consult your physician before starting an exercise routine.
But the general minimum guideline is that target of 30-minutes per day of moderate exercise or the equivalent of moderate and vigorous exercise. And if you can work your way up to about one hour a day of moderate exercise and mix in some vigorous exercise, you’ll be on the road to even better health.

Oh and one more thought about this. It’s a lot easier to keep up a daily exercise routine if you enjoy the process. So choose activities that are fun and maybe team up with an exercise partner to share the benefits!

Workout Workbook: 9 Complete Workouts to Help You Get Fit and Healthy. Harvard Health Publications, Gardiner J., Prouty J., Bean, J. (2014). Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports.

Edward Phillips, MD

Dr. Phillips is board certified in physical medicine & rehabilitation. He founded and directs the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School and is co-founder and co-director of the Lifestyle Medicine Education Collaborative "LMEd."

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