How Long Should You Work Out

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One of the most common questions that exercisers ask is: “how long should I work out?” The answer to this question depends on your goals and current health status. While following minimum guidelines for physical activity can help to maintain health and combat the negative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle, it takes more effort to lose weight and get fit. In addition, an individual's current level of fitness will also determine how much they should exercise each day.

When people wonder how long they should be exercising they may hope the answer is less versus more. In fact, the recent health and fitness trend is to do shorter workouts for weight loss. But this fad might not always be effective for everyone—whether you're trying to lose weight or improve your level of fitness.

The best method to determine how long you should work out shouldn't be based on fitness trends. Of course, you can (and should) still include short workouts on rotation in your schedule. But you will also have to do some cardiovascular workouts that are a little bit longer if you want to lose weight and stay healthy.

Weight Loss

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), you should exercise for 150–250 minutes per week to lose weight. The organization also suggests that more exercise provides better results.

If you want to keep the weight off for good, the ACSM prescribes a minimum of 250 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise per week.

To meet the ACSM guideline, you could simply exercise for 40 minutes every day. But that workout schedule could get boring, which may cause you to quit your program. In addition, to lose weight effectively you need to exercise at different intensity levels. This requires that you adjust your workout duration to accommodate the various workloads. It's also helpful to keep track of your daily calorie needs for weight loss. This calculator can provide you with an estimate.

Build Strength

Muscle mass decreases with age, which stresses the importance of regular resistance training. Strength training builds stronger muscles and bones to support the joints and prevent fractures and can even be beneficial for managing arthritis.

In addition to cultivating a regular strength training regimen, it's important to make sure that you're still incorporating enough cardiovascular activity to maintain or improve your current level of aerobic fitness.

Switching up your workout routines and workout lengths can help stave off boredom and help you stay motivated. But be sure to carve out time for rest and recovery days to avoid injury or burnout.

A 2016 review and meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine suggests that strength training at least two days a week can effectively build and strengthen muscle. Some experts recommend three days or more, however. 

Stay Healthy

The American Heart Association (AHA) has physical activity recommendations for basic health maintenance for adults and children in the United States. Here's a close look at some of the AHA's advice.

  • Adults: Americans aged 18 and older should get at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of higher-intensity cardiovascular activity (or some combination of both) each week. The AHA also recommends incorporating strength and resistance training at least two days per week.
  • Children: For kids aged 3–5, the AHA states that this group should be very active throughout the day. Children aged 6-17 are advised to get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity cardiovascular exercise per day, with vigorous intensity at least three days per week. Strength-training activities for this age group should be at least three days a week, gradually increasing with frequency and intensity over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only around 22.9% of U.S. adults aged 18–64 meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity each week.

To reap the health benefits of regular exercise, the AHA suggests that adults gradually increase the amount and intensity of exercise to reach a goal of 300 minutes (5 hours) of physical activity per week.

To incorporate more heart-pumping physical activity into your daily life, the AHA recommends first and foremost being less sedentary whenever possible. Even light activity such as getting up and going for a short walk or performing gentle stretching can help offset the risks associated with too much sitting, according to the AHA. In addition, the AHA suggests the following activities:

Moderate-Intensity Exercise

  • Ballroom or social dancing
  • Brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)
  • Biking slower than 10 mph
  • Doubles tennis
  • Gardening
  • Water aerobics

Vigorous-Intensity Exercise

While getting enough exercise is crucial for maintaining and improving health, staying hydrated and getting proper nutrition is just as important. For advice on following a healthy, balanced diet, refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

How Long to Work Out Each Day

If you are healthy enough for vigorous exercise, your workout program should include hard, high-intensity days, easy days to recover, and moderate days when you build endurance, improve heart health, and burn fat. Each of these workout goals requires a different exercise duration.

How long you should exercise every day depends on the specific workouts you choose and your personal health and fitness goals. But in general, you'll want to incorporate a mix of the following each week.

Short-Workout Days (20-30 minutes)

High-intensity intervals (HIIT) workouts need to be short. Why? Because your body simply can’t work very hard for a long period of time. If you find that you can complete high-intensity drills for an hour or longer, you’re probably not working hard enough.

HIIT workouts should last 20–30 minutes and feel very hard. Keep in mind, however, that you burn more calories from EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), also known as “the afterburn,” if you structure high-intensity workouts properly.

Measure workout intensity with a heart rate monitor and make sure you reach your target heart rate for the session. If you are well-rested going into the workout, you'll find it easier to work hard enough to reach that goal.

Easier Recovery Days (30-45 minutes)

The purpose of an easy day workout is to allow your body and your mind to rest. Of course, you could sit on the couch to recover as well. But an active recovery helps to increase your body’s range of motion, decreases your stress level, and increases your daily caloric burn

Active recovery is simply a low-intensity movement that increases the range of motion in your joints. For many people, an easy walk or a leisurely swim is a good active recovery exercise. Some yoga classes (restorative yoga, for example) are another smart option. An easy active recovery workout can last 30–45 minutes.

Long Moderate Workout Days (45-90 minutes)

Most of your workouts during the week will fall into the moderate category. These workouts burn more calories than a recovery day, but still allow your body to recover and prepare for high-intensity workout days. 

However, because your body isn't working as hard on moderate workout days, you need to exercise for a longer period of time to burn enough calories to lose weight. Try to make these sessions last 45 minutes or longer.

If possible, schedule one long workout, 75 minutes or more, during the week. This longer session challenges you mentally and builds cardiovascular endurance.

A Word From Verywell

If it seems overwhelming to try to schedule all of these workouts into your weekly routine, start by choosing 1-2 days per week for your harder activities. Then schedule the day after each hard day as an easy day. Finally, fill in the rest of the days with moderate sessions, and be sure to include a rest and recovery day as well.

You can design a plan on your own or use this sample workout schedule to help create your own exercise plan. You might also benefit from working with a personal trainer. Developing a personalized plan you can stick to for the long term can help you reach your goals.

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