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How much exercise is enough?

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none and adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits. But how much exercise is enough and how intense should that exercise be?

How much?

  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

  • Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups at least twice a week.


I know this seems like a lot but keep in mind the benefits of exercise which include:

  1. Improved bone health and weight status for children ages 3 through 5 years.

  2. Improved cognitive function for youth ages 6 to 13 years.

  3. Reduced risk of cancer at a greater number of sites.

  4. Brain health benefits, including possible improved cognitive function, reduced anxiety and depression risk, and improved sleep and quality of life.

  5. For pregnant women, reduced risk of excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression.

  6. For older adults, reduced risk of fall-related injuries.

  7. For people with various chronic medical conditions, reduced risk of all-cause and disease-specific mortality, improved physical function, and improved quality of life.

How to gauge intensity

In general, sedentary behavior refers to any waking behavior characterized by a low level of energy expenditure while sitting, reclining, or lying. This is typically equal to 1 MET – metabolic equivalent of task.

Moderate-intensity activity is a level of effort of 5 or 6 on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the level of effort of sitting, and 10 is maximal effort. In other words you are expending 5 or 6 times the energy as sitting. Examples include:

  1. Brisk walking

  2. Water aerobics

  3. Riding a bike

  4. Dancing doubles tennis

  5. Pushing a lawn mower

  6. Hiking

  7. Rollerblading

Vigorous-intensity activity begins at a 7 or 8 on this scale. Good examples include:

  1. Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

  2. Running

  3. Swimming laps

  4. Aerobic dancing

  5. Heavy yardwork like continuous digging or hoeing

  6. Singles tennis

  7. Cycling 10 miles per hour or faster

  8. Jumping rope

Now that you have a good idea of how often you need to exercise and how intense that exercise should be and the benefits of exercise, go out and have some fun doing it. Find something that you enjoy that involves exercise and go out and do it. If you don’t quite meet the minimum guidelines doing something is better than doing nothing!

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