How Much Exercise Do You Need and Which Type is Best for You?

October 3, 2020

Spoiler alert! There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how much exercise is “enough.” Talk to scientists who have researched this topic and their guidance is simple. Do something active, whenever you can. They say that any exercise counts and adds up for overall health, from vacuuming to running trains. The official government guidelines recommend that we get 30 minutes of moderate exercise (meaning walking briskly or moving at another easy pace) five days a week for a total of at least 150 minutes, or that we do at least 15 minutes of jogging or other vigorous activity five times a week to raise our heart rate.

Both sets of guidelines are broad and generic, but both support the idea that all exercise is good. Experts of all stripes also agree that exercise has tremendous health benefits for disease control (cancer and diabetes) as well as for your heart, brain, mental health, energy, sleep quality, and longevity. Professionals see another thing very clearly as well. A personalized exercise program is the best way to exercise.” Think about your goals,” says Pamela Peek, MD, MPH, a physician, researcher, and board member of the American College of Sports Medicine. For some aspects of health and well-being, certain types and amounts of physical activity are better than others, she says.

Your expectations, schedule and fitness level are all important. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, research published in 2019 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that high-intensity workouts, known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training), may dull your appetite and speed up fat burning more than gentle exercise. But experts caution against exercising just to lose weight.” Exercise for weight loss usually means disappointment,” says Timothy Church, MD, MPH, a professor at the Louisiana State University Pennington Biomedical Research Center who studies metabolism. Your diet is the most important factor associated with weight loss. In general, exercise increases hunger, he says, so after we eat more, we don’t shed many pounds.

Or consider your cartilage. If you have knee problems, choose activities that don’t require weight-bearing, such as biking or swimming, Dr. Peeke says. But if your knees are in good shape, running may reshape the joints and make them healthier, research shows.

Dr. Peeke recommends targeting at least four cardio-based workouts a week, such as jogging, cycling or brisk walking, and two or more strength-based workouts, which could mean Pilates or barbells. If you miss one or three workouts, relax. Just move. Start by standing up – The latest federal guidelines state that getting up and moving around, even if it’s only for five minutes at a time, is better for your health than not moving at all.

To help you establish a routine that works best for your goals, we’ve put together a guide to the pros, cons, and surprises of different types of exercise.

Related Link. This jump rope cardio workout will have you sweating in just 20 minutes.

walk
If your goal is to maintain weight, creativity and thinking, sleep quality, happiness, metabolic health, and longevity.

Benefits. Simple, convenient, effective. Studies show that walkers live longer, sleep better, and are less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, arthritis, and depression than inactive people. Studies show that walking also unleashes creativity, as well as memory, nurtures emotions, and requires no training or equipment other than comfortable shoes.

Cons: It’s unlikely to help you lose weight without eating less, too, and it takes some time commitment. To reap substantial health benefits from walking, plan to walk briskly for half an hour or more a day, experts say.

Good to know. According to a 2018 study, “brisk walking” means taking at least 100 steps per minute. Use your phone’s pedometer app to track steps; if you’re below 100 steps per minute, pick up the pace.

RELATED: according to fitness experts, these are the best walking workouts.

(military) march
If your goal is a strong heart, a healthy metabolism, strong bones, a better mood, a stronger brain, lean body mass.

The benefits. Because it’s “strenuous” exercise, you don’t need much of it. Fifteen minutes, or even just five minutes of running a day, according to some studies, is a lot healthier for the heart and the whole body. Plus, it’s simple, low-tech, and effective. Runners may have improved knee cartilage, bigger brains, and lower BMIs than they did before they started running.

The downside. At least 50% of runners get injured each year, especially novice runners. Start out easy. If your knees are creaky from past injuries or arthritis, try another sport; running may exacerbate joint rot.

Good to know. Plenty of apps are available to help you run with ease. Many apps (like C25K) use “Couch to 5K” running programs that are inspirational, instructional, free, and connect you socially with other runners. Ditto for Nike Running Club.

ride
If your goal is joint health, endurance, leg strength, increased immunity.

The benefits. Because the bike itself bears your weight, cycling is easy on the joints, which is great if you have back pain, or knee or hip pain. It also strengthens thigh muscles and hips; increases endurance; and, in studies of older riders, keeps muscles and the immune system young for years. Biking to work, you combine exercise and transportation.

Disadvantages. It’s not weight-bearing exercise, so it doesn’t build bone. You’ll often share the road with cars and smog, risking pollution and collisions. And cycling requires a certain amount of expertise and, of course, a bike.

Good to know. An e-bike – complete with a small, battery-powered motor – can help you get up hills and make your long rides faster. But since you still have to pedal, you get a workout comparable to a brisk walk.

swim
If your goals are: endurance, improved mood, injury recovery, joint health, upper extremity strength.

The benefits. Water provides support for the body, reduces stress on joints, and supports heavy breasts, making swimming better than running for many women. It’s also hard to heat up in the water, even during strenuous exercise. And swimming is great for lowering blood pressure, calming the mind, and strengthening the shoulders, core, and back.

Cons Swimming increases appetite more than any other exercise because it doesn’t raise body temperature (the higher the body temperature after exercise, the lower the hunger). It requires getting into the pool and knowing how to swim a few strokes.

Good to know. About 40% of adults in the U.S. don’t know how to swim. If that number includes you, the Red Cross (redcross.org); most YMCAs (ymca.net); and many American Masters Swim Clubs (usms.org), which offer inexpensive learn-to-swim programs for swimmers age 25 and older.

Pilates/Yoga
If your goals are flexibility, balance, core strength, upper body strength, reduced back pain, calm down…

Advantages. Pilates and yoga involve slow, precise choreography of movements or postures (called “asanas” in yoga), as well as breath control. Pilates also typically includes machine exercises that target the abdominal and back muscles. In studies, both Pilates and yoga have been shown to reduce back pain, improve balance, strengthen arms and shoulders, relieve tension in the mind, and increase flexibility in the lower body.

Cons These are not aerobic exercises. a 2016 review of yoga research concluded that moving through typical asanas is about the same as walking gently.

Good to know.” ‘Strength’ and Ashtanga yoga classes tend to be more physically demanding than yoga practices such as Hatha, Iyengar and Vini yoga. To find what works best for you, sample classes and instructors.

HIIT
If your goals are weight loss and weight control, metabolic health, endurance, time management.

Benefit: HIIT is short for High Intensity Interval Training, and HIIT workouts consist of repetitive, fast, vigorous exercise (intervals) – on a bike, treadmill, or mat – interspersed with easier exercises. Intervals can be as short as 20 seconds, and a full HIIT workout usually lasts less than 30 minutes, so they’re time-saving. They’ve also been shown to be effective in improving endurance, blood sugar control and post-workout fat burning.

Cons: That “high intensity” part. During intervals, you’re out of your exercise comfort zone. Heart rate spikes. Shortness of breath.HIIT can be difficult. Fortunately, each interval is short. But this workout may require some instruction at the beginning.

Good to know. New to exercise? It may be possible to ease HIIT with interval walking.A 2015 Japanese study found that walking fast for a few minutes, then slow for a few minutes, repeated five times, helped people improve their physical fitness, leg strength and blood pressure.

weight training
If your goal is strength, lean body mass, metabolic health, mental health, better bones.

Benefits. Overall strength. For women, weight training (whether it’s using body weight exercises like dumbbells, machines, or push-ups) tightens and strengthens muscles. Despite misconceptions, you won’t “gain weight”. Lifting weights also controls blood sugar, shrinks waist fat, and burns more calories after your workout.

The downside. The skeletal benefits are real, studies show, but may need to be lifted at least three times a week for at least a year. In addition, you need good form, otherwise you risk injury, especially to the back. You may also need a trainer, at least at first, if you like weight machines and gym membership.

Good to know. Surprising new research shows that weight training is effective at reducing anxiety and depression, and also seems to boost the brain (in rats, anyway), stimulating the production of healthy new brain cells.