How Much Exercise is Enough?

I often get asked ‘How much exercise should I be doing?’.  That is a good question.  And like many good questions, there is no simple answer.
In January 2011 the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) modified their physical activity guidelines.  To achieve health benefits, CSEP now recommends adults aged 18-65 to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.  CSEP also recommends at least two full body strength workouts per week and adds that more physical activity provides greater health benefits.
The above guideline is a good starting point.  If all Canadians did their part and moved their body at a moderate (increased breathing rate, still able to talk) to vigorous effort (not much breath left for conversation) for 21.4 minutes per day, we’d be a healthier population.  More of us would obtain a healthy body weight, and the rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes would likely be lower.
The CSEP guidelines are an excellent goal at which to aim.  If you are currently inactive, start with 10-20 minutes of moderate exercise per day and slowly progress until you are meeting the guidelines.
If you are already active, or want to do more than reduce your risk of lifestyle-related diseases, there are a few other points to consider when determining how much exercise you should be doing.
1. What is your goal?
The time you spend exercising will depend on your goal.  If you simply want health benefits, then adhering to CSEP’s recommendations is a good start.   However, if you want to run a marathon, you’ll need to workout a bit more.
According to the National Weight Control Registry, 90% of the people who lost weight and kept it off exercised, on average, one hour per day.  They also followed a low calorie diet, ate breakfast each day, weighed themselves regularly and watched less than 10 hours of TV per week.
If your goal is to lose weight, 150 minutes per week may still be enough- but that depends on a few different factors, listed below.
2. How intense are your workouts?
The intensity of your workout is more important than the time spent.  Think quality over quantity for maximum results.
If you bump up the intensity, you can often reduce your workout duration.  For example, 10-15 minutes of burpees and squat jumps at maximum effort would count as a workout.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you prefer to stroll instead of power walk, or socialize a bit while at the gym, you can probably exercise a little longer.
3. Are you exercising to make up for poor eating habits?
If you answered yes, your efforts are in vain.  The hours of exercise required to burn off extra calories is an unachievable goal for most.   Even if you had the time and energy, your body would still not look or function as well as by following a sound eating plan.  Give your body a break and say ‘no thank you’ to the second helping or doughnut, and hold the whipped cream on fancy coffees.
4. What is realistic to you?
An hour a day at the gym sounds great in theory- but it may not fit well into your schedule.  If you can’t commit a lot of time, commit your full effort to the time you have.

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