How much exercise do you need to do each day? There are so many fitness systems and gadgets on the market today and they all contradict each other. The most severe systems suggest as little as 4 minutes of extreme cardio or 7 minutes of intensive weight training. More often we are advised to do workouts of around 20 to 30 minutes. But what is best? Surely there is an optimum amount of exercise we should be doing?
Here we look at advice from the experts, namely government health departments and research institutes. We also provide our own recommendations at the end. There are suggestions for 15 minutes, 21 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes and 60 minutes workouts.
15 Minutes of Exercise - Taiwan Study on Health and Exercise
In August 2011 research was published that looked at the effects of exercise on long-term health. It concluded that just 15 minutes of exercise per day can add 3 years to your life. However, it was emphasized that this really is the minimum amount of exercise you should perform for health purposes – not for fat reduction. The research actually concluded that:
“moderate-intensity exercise might be of benefit” (Dr Chi Pang Wen et al, 2011)
This suggests the research does not conclude that such a small amount of exercise is really all that useful. The study was a cohort study, which means that they interviewed people and asked them about their lifestyle choices over the past 8 years. The research relies heavily on people being honest and remembering the things they do, and fully understanding the implications of their answers.
There are many weight loss and fitness workout plans that advocate short and intensive exercise, however, research experience and personal testing show that such a small amount of exercise really is not conducive to good health, fitness or weight loss.
21 Minutes a Day – UK Health Department
In July 2011 the UK government updated its guidelines on exercise. The latest guidelines is that everyone should aim to get 150 minutes of exercise each week, which averages out at 21 1/2 minutes each day, or five 30 minute sessions, which is the general recommendation given.
Part of the problem is that these guidelines still do not address lifestyle factors. In addition to planned exercise people need to be more active in general, with more walking and exertive hobbies, and less reliance on private transport and indoor hobbies.
30 Minutes A Day - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend exercising for 30 minutes a day for good health and fitness. They explain how exercising is beneficial to our physical and mental well-being in several different ways and that these benefits can be divided into three categories: Sociological, Psychological and Physiological. Getting fit and losing weight has many positive impacts on your health.
How much exercise do you need?
There are two main recommendations that have been made by NICE (previously the Health Education Authority):
Original recommendation - vigorous exercise at least three times a week for 20 minutes each time. This is the amount of exercise needed for maximum improvements in aerobic endurance and to reduce the risk of death. However, many people feel that this is too much for them to do.
The new recommendation is based on the fact that even moderate levels of physical activity can improve health, such as walking the dog.
New recommendation - minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week. This may seem to involve more exercise than the first recommendation, but there are two key differences that make it easier for people to achieve:
- The physical activity is moderate, so walking, cycling and gardening count.
- The 30 minutes can be split up into smaller amounts such as two fifteen-minute sessions. You could take fifteen minutes to walk to work and walk back again after work every day and you would have reached the recommended level.
Whichever recommendation you follow depends on your current level of fitness and how fit you want to be.
Fitness, weight loss and good health really require us to take a good look at our whole lifestyle. If 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week seems excessive then you really must sit down (or jump up) and question your attitude to health and fitness. In short, make time to exercise but do not make exercise your only lifestyle change. Find ways to rely less on your car, walk more, cycle, take part in other activities which get you moving in addition to your planned exercise sessions.
45 Minutes of Exercise a Day – Human Performance Lab
Research carried out by the Human Performance Laboratory at the Appalachian State University has shown that a 45 minute session of vigorous exercise increases metabolic rate for 14 hours. During this time fat burning is elevated, so long as you do not eat too much after exercising.
This research supports our suggestion that we should exercise twice a day for maximum fat burning potential. Exercising twice a day is not always easy, but it is certainly worthwhile if we wish to lose fat as quickly as possible. For example, if you exercise at 6.30am and then again at 8pm you will ensure that your metabolism is raised all day, every day. This can really help you to speed up weight loss.
“Post exercise energy expenditure was significantly elevated for 14.2 h” (Knab et al, 2011).
In this research, scientists examined the effects of 45 minutes of vigorous cycling in 10 male subjects, age 22-23 years old. The subjects were examined in a metabolic chamber during two days periods, one with 45 minute of exercise and the other without. All activities were restricted and diet controlled to ensure that each day was otherwise the same.
The 10 men were found through advertising, so were not connected with the University or previously knowledgeable about sports science. They had to spend the duration of the study inside a metabolic chamber. They entered at 7.30am in a fasted stated (no breakfast, just water) since 11pm the previous day. All meals were at set times and calories controlled. Subjects were only allowed to move to use the toilet, wash hands and brush teeth after eating.
Strict Metabolic Diet
During the day in the chamber the subjects followed a strict metabolic diet which provided approximately 35% fat, 55% carbohydrate and 15% protein in each meal. The menus were designed using Esha Food Processor SQL software
Up to 750 Calories Burned with 45 Minutes of Exercise
The exercise resulted in burning 458 – 480 Calories during the 45 minute of cycling. During the 14 hours following the cycling energy expenditure (amount of Calories burned) increased by 118 – 261 Calories. So a 45 minute intensive exercise session can potentially burn an additional 750 Calories in one day. This is a massive additional calorie expenditure.
1 1/2 Pounds Weight Loss per Week – 78 Pounds per Year
Consider that creating a daily energy deficit of 500 Calories will result in 1 pound weight loss per week (all things being equal) then a daily exercise session of 45 minutes will result in 1 1/2 pounds weight loss per week. So a daily 45 minute exercise session (it has to be intensive / vigorous) can result in 6 1/2 pounds weight loss each month, or 78 pounds in a year.
For quicker short-term weight loss you could increase your daily exercise to two sessions per day. This will require a higher level of fitness, so may not be possible in the first few weeks of exercising, but in time as you get fitter and stronger you should be able to do more exercise.
Also for anyone wanting to trim a lot of fat to reveal a six-pack exercising twice a day, one cardio session and one weight-bearing session, will speed total body fat reduction.
60 Minutes a Day – Harvard Medical School
A Harvard study published in 2010 looked at 34,000 American women with an average age of 54 years. The results of the study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study was carried out over a period of 13 years and the women answered questions on their activity and diet on a regular basis during this time, while their weight was monitored.
The study found that women who exercised for more than 7 hours per week gained significantly less weight (but on average did not lose weight) than those who exercised for 3-4 hours per week (half an hour a day) or less than 2 1/2 hours per week. Everyone that exercised for less than 1 hour a day gained weight at approximately the same rate.
The report concluded that for people who find themselves overweight later on in life, exercise alone is not enough. Once you become unfit you can no longer maintain the level of activity required to burn the excess energy. This is why diet is still the key to weight loss.
The key difference between current government guidelines and scientific research on exercise seems to really be down to health. 30 minutes exercise a day helps to prevent many health problems but does not help much with weight loss.
60 Minutes Exercise a Day, 7 Days a Week – MotleyHealth
This is the suggestion from MotleyHealth.com. Aim to be active for 60 minute a day, 7 days a week. This can be 30 minutes of planned exercise, such as jogging / running, cycling, weight training or a fitness class, and then 30 minutes of additional activity that results from lifestyle changes, such as walking to the shops, cycling to work, gardening, yoga etc.
60 minutes of exercise really should not be a huge challenge. Without any major lifestyle changes, 3 fitness classes, 1 long run, a swimming session and a nice Sunday walk will take care of 6 of the days. See our weekly exercise plan for more ideas.
We all really should aim to do much more to stay fit, to keep ourselves healthy and strong. A fit body not only means that we will have a longer life, but also a more fulfilling life. Nobody wants to spend their final days (or months) of their life bed-bound, as they have become so unfit and obese that they can no longer move and fewer of us want to have a sudden, massive heart attack.
But this does happen, and it is happening more often. The problems start early with sedentary lifestyles and poor diets. Remember that regular exercise does more than just help you to manage your weight. It strengthens your heart and lungs, improves memory, mood and cognitive function and makes you more independent and less likely to develop injuries later in life.
However, one little tip from Motley Health that many people have found useful over the years: If you are going to start exercising (which you should) pick a time when you would normally be slumped on the couch in front of the television. Even though more intensive exercise is better for weight management and fitness, exercising at a moderate intensity for 45-60 minutes in the evening does work well.
This is not because exercise in the evening is better, or because less intensive exercise is better. It is much simpler than that! If you are exercising, you are not eating. Most people snack in the evening through boredom, usually between 8pm-9pm, a couple of hours after dinner, and a couple of hours before bed. Exercise during this time and your hunger will pass, you eat less, you get fitter and lose weight.
Think and Train More Like an Athlete
It is important to remember that the healthy role models that we often see, are professional athletes and they work incredibly hard to be in excellent shape. Whether it is an athlete, a television fitness guru, a model, an actor or actress or a sports person, they all train every day for hours to stay in great shape.
If you are serious about being fit and healthy, dedicating 60 minutes of your day to exercise is not a big sacrifice. Remember, Olympic athletes train for 8 hours a day and still eat a very healthy diet. You only need to exercise 1/8th as much!
“Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study” by Dr Chi Pang Wen MD, Jackson Pui Man Wai PhD, Min Kuang Tsai MS, Yi Chen Yang MS, Ting Yuan David Cheng MS, Meng-Chih Lee MD, Hui Ting Chan MS, Chwen Keng Tsao BS, Shan Pou Tsai PhD, Xifeng Wu MD. The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 16 August 2011 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60749-6. Accessed on 18 August 2011. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)60749-6/fulltext#
Instant Recess – Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time by Toni Yancey, MD, MPH - Book, from Amazon.com and other stores.
“UK-wide advice on activity and fitness levels” http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/www.dh.gov.uk/en/MediaCentre/Pressreleases/DH_128211. Published date: 11 July 2011. Accessed on 18 August 2011.
“A 45-Minute Vigorous Exercise Bout Increases Metabolic Rate for 14 Hours” by Knab, Amy M.; Shanely, R. Andrew; Corbin, Karen D.; Jin, Fuxia; Sha, Wei; Nieman, David C..
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: September 2011 – Volume 43 – Issue 9 – pp 1643-1648 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182118891. Full text.
Physical Activity and Weight Gain Prevention (The Harvard Study). Lee I-M, Djoussé L, Sesso HD, et al. The Journal of the American Medical Association 2010; 303:1173-1179
How much physical activity do adults need? from Cdc.gov.