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How Much Exercise Do You Need? And What Kind?

Guidelines for Healthy Adults 2007

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Updated May 26, 2014

Woman biking on a dirt path.
Jordan Siemens/Iconica/Getty Images

How much exercise do you need to improve and maintain health? What kind of exercise do you need? Is walking enough, or do you need to jog? What about strength training? The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association updated their Physical Activity Guidelines in August, 2007. These guidelines are for healthy adults aged 18-65. There are additional guidelines for those over age 65.

Choose Moderate or Vigorous Aerobic (Endurance) Exercise

All healthy adults need endurance exercise, which noticeably accelerates their heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time. They can get it either with moderate or vigorous exercise -- you can enjoy a brisk walk, jog, dance, bike, or swim. You can also mix it up and enjoy moderate some days and vigorous other days, if you wish.

Moderate Aerobic Exercise for 30 Minutes a Day, 5 Days a Week

  • How Long: A minimum of 30 minutes a day. The 30 minutes can be broken up into 10 minute increments.
  • How Often: At least 5 days a week.
  • What Does Moderate Feel Like? A moderate level of activity noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate. You may sweat, but you are still able to carry on a conversation.
  • Kinds of Exercise: Brisk walking, easy jogging, treadmilling, elliptical trainer, bike riding, swimming, dancing.
  • What Doesn't Count: An easy walk of under 10 minutes doesn't count as aerobic activity. You can build moderate activity into your lifestyle by walking briskly for at least 10 minutes to the bus, etc. But just adding steps on your pedometer doesn't count.
  • How to Start Walking
  • Weekly Walking Workout Schedule: Vary your walking intensity.

Or - Vigorous Aerobic Activity for 20 Minutes on 3 Days Each Week

  • How Long: 20 minutes.
  • How Often: At least 3 days a week.
  • What Does Vigorous Aerobic Exercise Feel Like? You are breathing rapidly and only able to speak in short phrases. Your heart rate is substantially increased and you are likely to be sweating.
  • Kinds of Vigorous Aerobic Exercise: Running, cycling, or swimming at an intense level.

Add Strength Training Two Days a Week

Moderate or vigorous aerobic activity is needed, but you also need strength training exercise two days a week.
  • How Many: Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise.
  • How Often:: Two days each week.
  • What Are Strength Training Exercises? Strength training exercises have you lift, push or pull to increase muscle strength and endurance. These include lifts with dumbbells and barbells. You may also use resistance bands or gym equipment.
  • Strength Training Guide

More Is Better

These guidelines are the minimum for maintaining good health. If you workout for longer or more often, you further improve your fitness and reduce your risk of chronic disease and weight gain.

Changes in Guidelines Since 1995

The last set of guidelines was issued in 1995. The 2007 guidelines made several changes.
  • Strength training is added.
  • The number of days per week are now spelled out.
  • Vigorous physical activity guidelines are spelled out.
  • It is made clear that you could mix and match moderate and vigorous activities.
  • Aerobic activity doesn't include easy walking, doing chores, etc. for less than 10 minutes at a time.
  • "More is better" is spelled out.
  • Short bouts of exercise of at least 10 minutes can be added up to the total time needed.
Exercise Guidelines for Those Over Age 65: Guess what, you need even more kinds of exercise as you age.

Source: Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN, Franklin BA, Macera CA, Heath GW, Thompson PD, Bauman A. "Physical Activity and Public Health. Updated Recommendation for Adults From the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association." Circulation. 2007 Aug 1. [Epub ahead of print]

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