How Much Exercise Do People Need?

women exercising
Women Exercising, Image Courtesy of Photostock,

The following exercise guidelines apply to the average person with no significant health issues. Some people may require more or less exercise due to unusual metabolism or health problems.

Recommended Exercise Levels for Healthy Adults

For healthy adults, the minimum amount of exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is:

    • 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, riding a bike on level ground, or pushing a lawn mower) or 75 minutes per week of high-intensity aerobic exercise (such as running, jogging, riding a bike up hills or fast on level ground, swimming laps, or playing high-energy sports such as basketball or singles tennis)
    • At least two sessions per week of strength training exercises such as lifting weights, working with resistance bands, engaging in strenuous functional activities like shoveling dirt, or doing exercises that use body weight (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, sit-ups, etc.)

The CDC does not specify the length of time required for a strength training session. Typical recommendations on fitness websites range from 20-45 minutes, not counting warm-up, cool-down, and stretching. Because strength training facilitates permanent weight loss by increasing metabolism, those trying to lose weight should aim for the upper end of this recommendation.

The recommended exercise quotas do not necessarily need to be completed in large single chunks each day. They can be broken into 10-minute spans if that is more manageable.

To achieve a higher level of physical fitness and/or lose weight, healthy adults should do:

    • 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 150 minutes per week of high-intensity aerobic activity
    • Two or more strength training sessions per week

The CDC recommends the same exercise levels for seniors (those over 65 years of age) as for younger adults. However, people of any age who are just beginning to exercise after being sedentary for some time should start with lower amounts of exercise and gradually build their levels up to the recommended amounts. Also, those with health issues should consult their doctors before embarking on new exercise programs.

Flexibility is an aspect of fitness that is often neglected. Health Canada recommends that adults engage in four to seven stretching sessions per week.

Recommended Exercise Levels for Children

The CDC recommends that healthy kids and teens aged 6 to 17 years get an hour of exercise each day (420 minutes per week). This exercise should comprise predominantly aerobic activities such as walking, swimming, running, skipping, and playing energetic sports. However, it should also include some sort of muscle-strengthening activity such as push-ups or gymnastics several times a week.

Vary Exercise Intensity and Type to Lose Weight

According to Mayo Clinic staff, interval training, which involves varying exercise intensity, increases the number of calories burned during a workout and helps to shed fat. Interval training may involve adding a few minutes of jogging here and there while walking, or for more advanced exercisers, sprinting for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes from time to time during a jog or more leisurely run. Interval training can reduce boredom and help to increase fitness more rapidly.

According to a study conducted in 2008 by Amati et al. (summarized on Science Daily), the body tends to become efficient at activities that it engages in regularly. This means that exercisers burn less fuel (fewer calories) during their usual routines than with a new type of exercise, so in addition to incorporating interval training within typical workouts, it is a good idea to vary the type of workout regularly to achieve maximum benefits. For example, an individual who runs several days a week could replace one weekly run with a swim, bike ride, or aerobics class.

Exercise Benefits the Mind as Well as the Body

To learn about the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain, see Exercise Enhances Learning Ability.

For advice on starting a new exercise program, see How to Get Motivated to Start Running and visit the Strength Training page.

For a full list of fitness and health articles, see the main Mind-Body Health page.


    • American Physiological Society (17 September 2008). “Older People Who Diet Without Exercising Lose Valuable Muscle Mass.”
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2010). “How Much Physical Activity Do You Need?”
    • Mayo Clinic Staff. (6 February 2010). “Interval Training: Can It Boost Your Calorie-Burning Power?”
    • Sport Information and Resource Centre (SIRC). (2009). “Recommendations for Physical Activity and Mental Health Benefits of Exercise [PDF].”

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