Exercise is good for you. It’s one of the activities that has almost no downsides, as long as you don’t get injured or overdo it. Which begs the question: how much exercise should I do? How much is too much? And how much is too much or too little?
The short answer is: it depends.
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Like most human needs (think food, water, sleep), there is no set figure for the amount of exercise you should get every week. There are guidelines. But the exact amount you need differs based on your goals, abilities, health, age, sex, lifestyle and current level of fitness.
Here’s more about determining how much exercise you should aim for each week and making sure you get it.
Why should you exercise? What are the benefits?
Here are some benefits of exercise:
- Increases your chances of living longer
- Improves your heart and blood vessel health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Reduces your risk of diabetes
- Strengthens your bones and muscles
- Helps weight management
- Improves your brain health
- Reduces the risk of certain diseases like diabetes and heart disease
- Improves your stamina and ability to carry out daily activities
- Improves digestion
- Strengthens your lungs
- Improves your sleep quality
- Improves your resilience and helps you cope with stress
- Helps control blood pressure
- Improves your flexibility and balance
- Reduces your risk of certain cancers
- Reduces your risk of falls
- Improves your mental health
And that’s not all. The benefits of physical activity are almost endless. Truly, you could have a list as long as your arm and still not be finished!
So why wouldn’t you just assume that exercising as much as possible is the best route?
When vigorous exercise isn’t recommended
Despite the illustrious list of benefits you can get from physical activity, it may not be advisable for you in certain cases.
Some instances where you need to limit your physical activity for your own safety include:
- Pregnancy and after delivery: physical activity during pregnancy is encouraged but as you get into the last trimester, it is best to engage in slow activities with a lower risk of injuries. Also, after delivery your body may still be sore, so it is best to ease into exercise gradually after six weeks.
- Breastfeeding people: depending on how active you were, you may find that you need to slow down a little while breastfeeding because intensive workouts can limit breast milk production.
- Illness: while exercise has been found to help manage chronic disease. It may not be a good idea when you fall ill. Discuss your exercise plans with your care team if you have any chronic or acute illness.
- Obesity: if you weigh much more than you should for your height, that can place a burden on your heart and blood vessels. Attempting to exercise vigorously can be an extra burden, leading to injuries or collapse. It is recommended that you ease into physical activity gradually.
- Living with disabilities: if you are living with a disability, you should discuss possible modifications with your care team.
Can you do too much exercise?
You might be surprised to hear that even totally healthy people with no special considerations can do too much exercise.
Overdoing it by pushing too hard, too fast, and/or for too long can cause problems too. And pay extra attention to that warning if you’re not fueling yourself adequately before exercise.
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Here are some symptoms of too much exercise:
- Fitness plateau
- Underperformance (e.g. not being able to perform or needing longer between workouts, sets, or activities)
- Mood problems like depression, anxiety, and irritability
- Muscle soreness
- Injuries (particularly overuse injuries)
- Weight loss
- Weakened immune system (e.g. picking up colds more often)
In severe cases, like people who push themselves during endurance events, you can even see a condition called rhabdomyolysis. This is a serious and potentially fatal condition, where exercising for too long or at too high of an intensity can damage the heart and kidneys due to muscles releasing proteins and electrolytes directly into the bloodstream.
Remember, rest days are important too. And so is changing the intensity of your training. Even top athletes can’t perform at 100% every day of the year, so learning to taper your training up and down as needed is key.
How much exercise you should do each week
If you are an adult between the ages of 18 and 65 years, and you don’t have any special considerations, here are some recommendations from the World Health Organization for getting enough exercise every week according to your age.
- Kids and teens (ages 5-17): Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. That’s 420 minutes a week.
- Adults (ages 18-64): At least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Muscle strengthening exercises twice a week are also helpful.
- Older adults (65 years and older): In addition to the requirements for younger adults, you should also include strength and balance training 2 to 3 times each week to reduce your risk of falls.
- As mentioned earlier though, take these with a pinch of salt. You might need slightly less or more than the recommendations state.
Tips to get started
Doing 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity can seem quite daunting at first. But when you break it down, it’s really quite manageable. Think of it as daily slots or windows of exercise rather than one huge chunk.
Here are some tips to help you meet that weekly target.
- Start small. A little exercise is better than none. Take a small step towards moving more and aim to move toward 150 minutes gradually.
- Choose activities you enjoy. You are more likely to stick with exercise if you enjoy it. Pick a set of activities you genuinely like and can commit to.
- Track your progress. Keeping a record of your weekly activity can encourage you to keep moving. You can use an app, a smart watch, or just a notepad. But remember to review your records periodically.
- Get an exercise buddy or join a fitness group. If possible and safe, consider partnering with other fitness enthusiasts. You can do this at a local gym, on social media or through apps. The more, the merrier!
- Get the right gear. Having the clothes, shoes, and equipment to support more exercise can make it easier to stay consistent. There’s no need to break the bank, but having the basics can encourage you to use them.
- Set weekly or monthly goals. Productivity experts say you are more likely to achieve goals you make and write down and schedule. So, go ahead and place exercise on your weekly calendar.
- Adjust your lifestyle. If your lifestyle involves long hours of sitting, and you do to have much time to get out and about, you could tweak your lifestyle. Read our five tips to move more during the day if this sounds like you!
To run or not to run?
The exact amount of exercise you need will depend on your needs. Meeting the recommendations by WHO is a good target to work towards. For the majority of us, doing 150-300 minutes of exercise a week is plenty and will allow you to reap the wellness benefits without too much sacrifice.
For most people, there isn’t a specific upper limit to exercise. But you can do too much, resulting in physical and mental health problems, as well as injury. On top of that, you should be aware of special considerations and make sure to gradually build up your endurance.
If you have any concerns, discuss them with your doctor.