The Minimum Amount of Exercise You Need to Stay Healthy

Good news — short bursts of movement count too.

By: Jessica Migala

It’s common knowledge that regular exercise is extremely important for overall health and wellness. And if you need some convincing, (or maybe some motivation to get moving), here’s what science has to say about the benefits of exercise. When it comes to improving overall health and wellness, research suggests physical activity benefits heart and bone health, mood and mental health, weight loss, healthy food decisions, sleep, and energy. Did we miss anything!? And if you think you have to schedule in an hour at the gym or a specialty exercise class to reap the benefits, think again!

The good news is that we’ve finally realized more is not always more when it comes to exercise. Rest, recovery, and short workouts are not only effective, they’re essential! So yes, even small bouts of exercise deliver big benefits for your health. Ahead, we’re answering all those need-to-know questions — how much exercise do you need to stay healthy, what’s the minimum amount of exercise you need to lose weight, and what types of movements are most beneficial? Read on to find out.

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 break that down, that’s barely over 20 minutes per day, 30 minutes for five days, or 50 minutes if you’re performing moderate-intensity exercises just three times a week. 

And if you’re the type who wants to maximize your time, increasing the intensity from moderate to vigorous means you’ll need just 75 minutes of exercise — per week! As you can see, this is much more attainable than you may have thought. 

But don’t forget to fit in strength exercises, like bodyweight exercises or weighted exercises, too. According to the American Heart Association, weight-bearing exercises should be incorporated two times per week.

Minimum Amount of Exercise to Lose Weight

If you want to know the minimum amount of exercise needed for weight loss, you’re not alone! This is a common (and totally normal) question, but keep in mind — while exercise is a critical component of successful weight loss, additional lifestyle factors are equally as important. Eating a healthy diet, managing stress levels, and prioritizing sleep are among the few.

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. 

Good news, if you live an active lifestyle, you may be performing daily moderate-intensity workouts without even realizing it! Do you take your dog on a brisk walk? Head out for a gentle bike ride? Garden, or challenge your friend to a double tennis match? These are all examples of moderate-intensity workouts! So those 20 minutes a day? Doesn’t seem so bad after all, right?

Some other moderate-intensity workouts include:

  • Gardening
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Household chores such as vacuuming or washing the windows
  • Moving or carrying moderate items
  • Even chasing your children around the house!

And if you’re looking for a structured workout, and you haven’t joined our community yet, download the FitOn app for free!  

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. Think about those red in the face, can’t catch your breath, heart-pumping type workouts. Yep, burpees, squat jumps, and sprints, we’re looking at you! 

Vigorous workouts might include:

  • Running or jogging
  • Swimming laps
  • Competitive sports (such as football or basketball) 
  • 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 (or hours at said gym). So the takeaway here is to find ways to keep moving, even on days you do exercise! Discover what brings you joy, and do more of that — whether it’s a planned workout or taking care to live an active lifestyle. Doing so helps prevent a sedentary lifestyle. 

So if you’re sitting all 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. Maybe even squeeze in a quick calorie-blasting burner! 

Living a generally more active lifestyle will also increase your step count and will combat being sedentary. Take an extra lap 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 Bottom Line 

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. Rest days are equally as important for your weight loss and fitness goals — take time off from structured workouts during the week! You can try an active recovery day, which may include planned stretching, a light yoga class, or even a gentle walk or bike ride. 

And, make sure you’re getting the 7 to 8 hours of sleep recommended for adults, eating a nutritious diet, and incorporating some stress-relief practices into your wellness routine. If you want to be your healthiest and happiest self, these are important!

Want a free and easy way to fit more movement into your busy day? Sign up for FitOn and get access to unlimited free workouts that make it easy to find time for fitness.