Exercise 101: How Much and How Often Should You Exercise?

We all have that friend. You know who I’m talking about. The one who exercises so much and talks about it all the time. Every time you talk to them about their day it’s nothing but, “Oh, I did sunrise yoga and then ran five miles and had a wheat-grass and spinach smoothie for breakfast before heading off to Zumba. I might go for a jog tonight after pilates, but that’s it…it is a rest day after all.” Being around this person makes you acutely aware of the fact that you haven’t lifted anything heavier than a wine glass, or walked any farther than from the living room to the kitchen in four days. Is it possible to physically feel yourself gaining weight? It sure feels like it when you’re around that friend.

So then you start to think to yourself “…Well, gee…maybe I need to workout more.” But the idea of dedicating 45, 60 or 90 minutes a day, six days a week can seem overwhelming, impossible and attempting to do so will burn you out quickly, which will probably lead to a rebellious three weeks of inactivity to recover from your brief period of gym-insanity. And then you have lunch with that friend again, and the whole vicious cycle starts over.

So let’s cut to the chase. How much should you actually be exercising? How often? What is a healthy, maintainable routine that will set you up for long-term success instead of quick burnout?

Many factors come into play when answering this question, but before we go into those, let’s start with the golden rule: At least one day a week should be dedicated to complete and total rest. No one benefits from exercising seven days a week. Recovery and rest days are where the magic happens and skipping them will burn you out and leave you exhausted.

Depending on your goals, the general population should be exercising between three to five times per week. If you are pushing yourself, and really getting the most from your workout instead of just going through the motions, a 30 to 40 minute workout should be sufficient. 40 minutes of intense exercise is far more beneficial than two hours of moderate or easy activity. Exercise requires work. That’s why they’re called workouts.

If your workouts are primarily cardio, try a week that looks like this:

Day 1: 35 minutes

Day 2: Rest

Day 3: 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the evening

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: 45 minutes cardio

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Rest

Cardio could mean walking, jogging, using an elliptical, going to Zumba classes, swimming laps, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, bike riding, or any number of other activities. Be sure to mix it up so your mind and your body don’t get bored! Diversity in your workouts is an excellent way to make sure you stay dedicated to maintaining activity and exercise in your day-to-day life.

If your workout routine involves a lot of weight lifting, be sure to take every thirdor fourthday off from the weights. Either make this an all-cardio day, or a complete rest day, and never train the same muscle group two days in a row. If you’re exercising five days per week, and you incorporate a lot of weight training, your week should look something like this:

Day 1: Arms/Abs/Cardio

Day 2: Back/Cardio

Day 3: Cardio (or rest)

Day 4: Legs

Day 5: Shoulders/Abs/Cardio

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Rest

Remember that your health and fitness is not a race. It’s much better to do a little bit over a long period of time than to go all out and burn out after two weeks.


About Author

Dani Russell is a freelance health and fitness lifestyle writer living in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is currently working to complete a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and is a practicing student therapist. In her free time she can be found playing in the ocean, hiking and weightlifting. You can keep up with her daily quest to balance multiple jobs, fitness and graduate school via her tumblr.

Posts By Dani Russell