How Much Exercise Is Required to Reap Health Benefits?
Question: “I realize that exercise is good for us. How much daily exercise is required to get positive health benefits?”
Here is what we know for sure: An overwhelming amount of evidence points to the fact that a physically active lifestyle provides a variety of positive health outcomes. Participating in regular exercise, whether it be structured workouts or unstructured activity such as hiking and biking, has been shown to lessen the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension (high blood pressure), colon and breast cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Regular exercise also helps prevent weight gain, or, if your goal is to shed a few pounds, promotes weight loss when combined with reduced calorie intake.
Despite the myriad health benefits regular physical activity can offer, it is estimated that only 25 percent of adults and just 20 percent of high school age students meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) minimum guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. To compound the situation, over 30 million adults over the age of 50 are completely inactive and get virtually no exercise beyond that required for daily living. This fact is not to be taken lightly, as the sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased incidence of premature death and contributes significantly to the country’s $120 billion annual health care costs.
How much daily exercise is needed to activate many of these health benefits? It depends on the type of physical activity and your reasons for exercising. Is your primary goal to lose weight, get stronger, improve your 10K race time or simply alleviate stress? To realize specific benefits related to the achievement of specific goals may require different types, amounts and intensities of daily exercise.
For example, walking 5 miles a day will burn lots of calories and can help you lose weight, but it will not necessarily improve your 10K race time. However, with respect to our health and well-being, some exercise is always better than no exercise. If you are presently among the group of sedentary adults who do not exercise at all, then your immediate goal should be to get moving. When you take that important first step from doing nothing to doing something, any amount of exercise, even if it does not meet minimum CDC recommendations, will provide health benefits.
To generate substantial health benefits, the CDC recommends that adults (ages 18–64 years) engage in at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Aerobic activities should be performed for at least 10 minutes or more, and preferably spread throughout the week. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week (but not consecutive days).
To experience more extensive health-related benefits, the CDC recommends that adults increase aerobic activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity exercise, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous intensity activity.
Older adults (65 years and over) should also, if possible, engage in at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking or cycling. Muscle strengthening exercises and activities to improve balance, such as standing on one foot, should be included at least 2 days per week. If chronic conditions prevent older adults from engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, then they should attempt to be as physically active as their conditions allow.
Adults with disabilities who are physically able should attempt to meet the goal of at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of both. Those who are able should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or high-intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
The CDC also recommends that children and adolescents (6–17 years of age) engage in at least 60 minutes, and preferably more, of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity every day. On at least 3 days a week, a portion of those 60-plus minutes should include vigorous aerobic exercise like running or soccer, muscle strengthening exercises such as climbing or push-ups, and bone-strengthening activities such as gymnastics or skipping rope.
As stated earlier, some exercise is always better than no exercise. Regular physical activity, regardless of the intensity, helps to alleviate stress, control anxiety and depression, maintain a healthy body weight, and reduce the likelihood of disease and sudden death. Such positive health outcomes are available to anyone willing to get moving on a regular basis. Additional health benefits occur as the volume of exercise is increased through higher intensity, greater frequency, and/or longer duration. In a nutshell, for those searching for a “magic pill” that will enhance their physical and mental health, regular exercise is that pill!