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How Often Do I Need to Work Out?

Jan 29 2021
5 min read
close-up of young woman's smiling face in a workout class with blurred people in foreground and background

Q: Most people I know exercise for an hour a few days a week. How often do I really need to work out?

A: While you may have a different fitness goal than your friend or the woman on the treadmill next to you, there are some baseline exercise recommendations that everyone can follow to achieve good health.

Time, frequency, and intensity of exercise combine with individual factors to affect outcomes for each person. As a general guideline, about 90 minutes of activity per week can help prevent illness and keep your fitness level from declining, while 150 minutes of moderate cardio combined with two or three days of strength training is a good formula for losing excess weight and maintaining a healthy fitness level.

While you can certainly benefit from working out at any level of effort, pushing yourself to elevate your heart rate and exhaust your muscles improves your fitness.

Starting with 30 minutes of cardio work that elevates your resting heart rate by 30-40 beats, three days a week, with strength training on the other days, is generally a good place to begin when determining how much time to spend exercising. To progress from there, you can increase your frequency and your intensity, getting in your 30 minutes of cardio four, five or even six days a week, and raising your resting heart rate by 50 to 100 beats (the older you are, the lower the increase).

Once your body has adjusted to that more intense workout structure, you can consider adding some high-intensity sessions to your schedule, one or two days a week. A high-intensity session is one where you add an additional 30 beats to your target heart rate. (So, if your resting heart rate is 70 beats a minute, and your regular moderate workout target is 120 beats per minute, a high-intensity session would aim for a heart rate of 150 beats.) An easy trial of high-intensity workouts could be to change two of your regular moderate-level 30-minute sessions to 15- to 20-minute high-intensity sessions. The results you see (or don’t see) will help determine if you need to change your routine.

The guidelines above serve as a general baseline for creating and advancing your workout plan. Consider these other factors, too, to make sure that what you’re doing is not only effective but a good fit for you and your goals.

Your Personal Goals

When you hit the gym, what are you hoping to achieve? Beyond the minimum exercise recommendations for good health lies the opportunity to customize your workout to focus on specific objectives. If you’re trying to lose weight, for example, you might do longer or more frequent cardio workouts in an effort to burn more calories. But if building muscle is your priority, you may opt for longer or more varied strength sessions. Perhaps you’re hoping to reduce your stress levels and you discover that the addition of a couple dance sessions each week helps you feel less overwhelmed. Sometimes the choices you make as you work toward a specific goal will result in different amounts of exercise from week to week.

How You’re Feeling

If your body or mind isn’t primed for exercise, you may not be able to perform effectively. Are you a beginner? A daily bootcamp class may be too much for you at this stage. Are you feeling uncertain about how much to lift? Aiming to use all of the machines in the weight room this week may do more harm than good. Are you overweight? Do you suffer from a specific health condition? If you’re unsure about how much you should move – and in what way – because of a health condition, injury or other concerns, a health professional or fitness trainer can guide you on what’s best for your situation.

Of course, you’ll have weeks that are more active than others – and that’s OK. It’s important to remember that just moving throughout the day counts – it’s something we constantly tell our guests here at Canyon Ranch. Even small movements and exercises add up to positive results, so when you commit to doing something every day, no matter how small, it’s better than having done nothing. Doing tasks around the house, walking to the store, climbing the stairs – they all contribute to your efforts. Even waking up and doing a few energizing yoga poses is you committing to living a healthy life. So – make a plan and get moving!