How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?


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Health experts make it a priority to provide exercise advice for the general public. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the most up-to-date physical activity guidelines for overall health and weight management, which informs the recommendations shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition (PCSFN), a federal advisory committee, offers guidelines for physical activity as well.

Whether set by a governing body or recommended by a fitness professional, most guidelines for physical activity share the same advice: Cardiovascular exercise about three to five days a week and strength training about twice a week. Find out how much physical activity you need to stay healthy, plus tips for getting started.

The Truth About Exercise

Many people in search of exercise advice are looking for specifics. They want to know what activities to do, for how long, how hard to work, how to do the exercises, and how the exercises will change their body. While plenty of experts will tell you they have the answer, the truth is, there is no one schedule or routine that will fit your exact needs.

So how do you figure out how much exercise you need? One place to start is with your goals. These guidelines can help you achieve the three most common goals: overall health, weight management, and weight loss. The sample workouts and schedules included will help you make exercise a regular habit.

Exercise for Overall Health

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the Department of Health and Human Services, recommend regular exercise for good health:

The following sample workout schedules show include workouts to help you meet the physical activity recommendations for overall health.

Getting Started

This beginner workout schedule is a great choice if you aren't quite ready for a full 5 days of cardio:

Ramp Up the Intensity

This series takes it up a notch with more workouts and more intensity:

  • Monday: 30-minute elliptical workout at a medium pace
  • Tuesday: 20-minute interval training workout (alternate walking and jogging, or try this beginner interval workout)
  • Wednesday: Total body strength training routine
  • Thursday: 20-minute interval workout (alternate walking and jogging, or do the beginner interval workout)
  • Friday: Total body strength training workout
  • Saturday: 3 sets of 10-minute walks at a brisk pace with a 1-minute rest in between

Exercise for Weight Management

While there aren't official guidelines for weight management, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests moderate-intensity workouts 150 to 250 minutes per week (20 to 35 minutes daily) to burn 1,200 to 2,000 calories a week. These numbers can vary based on an individual's age, sex, weight, and level of fitness.

To get a sense of what this looks like in real life, this sample workout schedule predicts calories burned for a 150-pound person in one week.

Sample Schedule

This exercise program includes a variety of cardio activities, all done at a moderate pace, along with a strength workout and a yoga session for a complete and balanced program.

Total time: 245 minutes
Estimated calories burned: 1,236

Exercise for Weight Loss

You need a certain amount of exercise to maintain your current weight. If weight loss is your goal, you will have to ramp up your workout regimen.

The ACSM recommends 200 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise to promote weight loss.

However, keep in mind that working harder during some workouts will give you more bang for your buck. To see it in action, the sample routine below shows how a 150-pound exerciser could fit in 300 minutes of exercise a week.

Sample Schedule

  • Monday: 30-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout - alternate 1 minute of running (10 mph or as fast as you can) with 2 minutes of walking (4.5 mph) for 30 minutes (320 calories); Basic total body workout, 30 minutes (100 calories)
  • Tuesday: 60-minute kickboxing class (550 calories)
  • Wednesday: 30- 45-minute lower body strength training workout (300 calories); 15 minutes of stretching (42 calories)
  • Thursday: 60-minute yoga class (170 calories)
  • Friday: 45-minute HIIT workout - alternate 1 minute of running at 10 mph with 2 minutes of walking at 4.5 mph (480 calories)
  • Saturday: 30-minute upper body workout (150 calories)

Total time: 315 Minutes
Estimated calories burned: 2,112

A Word From Verywell

Regardless of your goals, the amount of exercise you need to stay healthy and fit can seem intimidating, especially if you're brand new to exercise. But any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all, and it's perfectly OK to start slow and ease your way into it. A great way to approach exercise is to start with a focus on improving your overall health.

The sample workouts listed above are great for beginners and experienced exercisers alike. Once you have a strong foundation of strength and cardio, you can start to incorporate more vigorous routines into your weekly regimen. Start with what you can realistically commit to and use the exercise guidelines to help you set up a program that works best for you.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2nd Ed. 2018. 

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?.

  3. U.S. Department on Health and Human Services. The President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.

  4. Donnelly JE, Blair SN, Jakicic JM, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand: Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(2):459-471. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181949333

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."