Exercise: How much is Enough?
For the greatest overall health benefits, experts recommend that you do 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three or more times a week and some type of muscle strengthening activity and stretching at least twice a week.
However, if you are unable to do this level of activity, you can gain substantial health benefits by accumulating 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity a day, at least five times a week.
If you have been inactive for a while, you may want to start with less strenuous activities such as walking or swimming at a comfortable pace. Beginning at a slow pace will allow you to become physically fit without straining your body. Once you are in better shape, you can gradually do more strenuous activity.
Moderate-intensity activities include some of the things you may already be doing during a day or week, such as gardening and housework. These activities can be done in short spurts -- ten minutes here, eight minutes there. Alone, each action does not have a great effect on your health, but regularly accumulating 30 minutes of activity over the course of the day can result in substantial health benefits.
To become more active throughout your day, take advantage of any chance to get up and move around. Here are some examples:
- Take a short walk around the block
- Rake leaves
- Play actively with the kids
- Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator
- Mow the lawn
- Take an activity break -- get up and stretch or walk around
- Park your car a little farther away from your destination and walk the extra distance
The point is not to make physical activity an unwelcome chore, but to make the most of the opportunities you have to be active.
Aerobic activity is an important addition to moderate-intensity exercise. Aerobic exercise is any extended activity that makes you breathe hard while using the large muscle groups at a regular, even pace. Aerobic activities help make your heart stronger and more efficient. They also use more calories than other activities. Some examples of aerobic activities include:
- Brisk walking
- Aerobic dancing
- Racket sports
- Ice or roller skating
- Cross-country or downhill skiing
- Using Aerobic Equipment (i.e., treadmill, stationary bike)
To get the most health benefits from aerobic activity, you should exercise at a level strenuous enough to raise your heart rate to your target zone. If your heart is beating faster than your target heart rate, you are exercising too hard and should slow down. If your heart is beating slower than your target heart rate, you should exercise a little harder.
When you begin your exercise program, aim for the lower part of your target zone. As you get into better shape, slowly build up to the higher part of your target zone. If exercising within your target zone seems too hard, exercise at a pace that is comfortable for you. You will find that, with time, you will feel more comfortable exercising and can slowly increase to your target zone. Use our calculator to find your target heart rate by your age.
Tight muscles. Waning body temperature. Sluggish blood flow. Sound like a set-up for injury? You're right. Regardless of your personal workout choice, one truth applies to everyone: Preparation can prevent injury.