Regular exercise is something that research shows time and time again is extremely important for overall health and wellness. Physical activity is essential for heart and bone health, mood and mental health, sleep, and energy. But you might think that you have to schedule in an hour at the gym or a specialty exercise class to do any good.
The fortunate news is that even small bouts of exercise deliver big benefits for your health. While the majority of movement doesn’t have to be grind-yourself-into-the-ground intense, brief spurts of intensity — as little as minutes a day — can make a difference for your health.
How Much Exercise Do You Need to Stay Healthy?
There is an across-the-board recommendation for health and wellness: Get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week, an amount that just one in five adults achieve, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). If you’re the type who wants to maximize your time, then increase the intensity to get 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise. (This will take the place of the 150 minutes.)
In addition, you’ll want to fit in strength exercise, like bodyweight exercises or weighted exercises, two times per week, advises the AHA.
Minimum Amount of Exercise to Lose Weight
While exercise is a critical component of successful weight loss, exercise alone hasn’t been shown to lead to significant weight loss — you still need to make changes to your diet, research suggests.
That said, short bursts of exercise can affect your body composition and health for the better. In a small study on young adults who did the 7-minute workout (a HIIT-style workout that incorporates bodyweight exercises, like squats and lunges) for seven days a week without making any dietary changes, they saw their waist circumference decrease by 1.5 inches within six weeks compared to a control group, according to a 2017 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Their body fat percentage also decreased, and they lost a (very) small amount of weight. The researchers concluded that because they lost belly fat, these short workouts are good for bettering cardiometabolic health.
Moderate-Intensity Workout Examples
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity exercise can be measured by the talk test. It’s defined as effort that allows you to talk but not sing. According to the CDC, examples include a brisk walk, pool classes, a gentle bike ride, doubles tennis, ballroom dancing, gardening.
Vigorous-Intensity Workout Examples
Vigorous exercise gets your heart pumping harder than moderate-intensity movement. You should not be able to string a sentence together because your breathing will be more labored. The CDC says vigorous workouts might include race walking, jogging or running, swimming laps, singles tennis, dance workout classes, biking fast on a route that includes hills, jumping rope, hiking.
All Movement Counts
There are so many different ways to move your body, none of which require a gym membership. And even on days you do exercise, you’ll still want to keep moving. In other words: Exercising doesn’t give you license to remain sedentary. Even planned exercise doesn’t negate the negative consequences, such as heart disease and cancer risk, of sitting all day, suggests research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
During the day, don’t forget to get up and move — even if it’s a small amount. Have a desk job? Some research indicates that standing up every 30 minutes to move around can help decrease the mortality risk that comes with days spent sitting on your duff. Set a calendar reminder and get up, walk one flight of stairs in your home, throw a load of laundry in, or take a call on your feet.
Living a generally more active life will also increase your step count and will combat being sedentary. Take an extra spin around the block with your dog, run around the backyard with your kids, or fit in a 10-minute workout when you’re crunched for time.
The takeaway here is to fit in exercise where you can and know that every minute can make a difference. And, don’t forget about your recovery days. Just like your body needs exercise, it also craves rest too. Make sure you’re getting the 7 to 8 hours of sleep recommended for adults, and take time off from structured workouts during the week. You can try an active recovery day, which is planned stretching, a light yoga class, or even a gentle walk or bike ride.
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