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Are You Getting Enough Exercise for Fitness?

ACSM Position Stand on How Much Exercise and the Right Kinds of Workouts


Updated November 13, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Treadmill Exercise

Exercising on the Treadmill

Krista Van Veen, used with permission
If you are a healthy adult, how much exercise do you need to do to get fit and stay fit? What kinds of exercise workouts should you be doing, and how often should you do those workouts? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published its position stand on quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining fitness in June 2011.

But for the best fitness, they break it down into recommendations for each type of exercise. The basic rule of thumb is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week (two and a half hours).

How Much Cardiorespiratory Exercise Do You Need?

  • 150 Minutes a Week: The ACSM recommends 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate intensity exercise per week.
  • Vigorous vs. Moderate: Moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, can be done for 30-60 minutes, five days per week, to meet the guideline. Vigorous intensity exercise, such as running, can be done less often to meet the guidelines -- 20-60 minutes, three days per week.
  • One Session vs. Shorter Bouts of Exercise: You can break up your daily workout as long as you exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time, or you can put in one continuous session for the day.
  • Build Up Gradually: To prevent injury and burn-out, build up your exercise time, frequency, and intensity gradually.
  • Any Exercise is Better than None: If you can't meet the guideline, you still get fitness and health benefits from doing any amount of exercise.

How Much Resistance Exercise Do You Need?

  • Work Those Muscles: Each muscle group deserves a workout two to three days a week, waiting 48 hours between sessions.
  • What Kind of Equipment: Use any kind of resistance training equipment or weights. These include exercise bands, free weights, and resistance training machines.
  • How Many Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of each exercise build strength and power. How many repetitions you do depends on your goals: 8-12 reps for strength and power, 15-20 for muscular endurance. ASCM also recommends 10-15 reps for strength in middle age and older adults.
  • Older Adults and Beginners: Lighter weights or lighter intensity are better for older persons or those who are just starting a routine, with 10-15 repetitions.

How Much Flexibility Exercise Do You Need?

  • Improving Range of Motion: Flexibility workouts are recommended on two to three days a week, with the benefit of improving range of motion.
  • Kinds of Stretches: ACSM doesn't have a preference for one type of stretching. They say that static stretching, dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching and PNF stretching are all effective.
  • How to Stretch: Start with a few minutes with walking or other light aerobic activity to warm up the muscles. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat each two to four times.

How Much Functional Fitness - Neuromotor Exercise Do You Need?

  • Multi-Muscle Movements: Rather than isolating and building a single muscle, these exercises combine balance, agility, coordination and gait. The ACSM recommends 20-30 minutes, two or three days per week.
  • For Older Adults: Yoga and tai chi can help improve balance and function and may help prevent falls, according to ACSM.
ACSM's Position on Pedometers

The position paper concludes that using a pedometer with a daily step goal of 10,000 steps shouldn't be the sole measure of physical activity. They cite several studies that show that fewer than 10,000 steps is sufficient for some individuals, especially those just starting a fitness program. Meanwhile, the step count alone doesn't tell whether a person is getting moderate intensity or vigorous intensity exercise. Some pedometers display aerobic steps, when the wearer is walking more than 100 steps per minute. That is a better indicator of the quality of exercise.

Sitting as a Health Risk

Research is showing that sitting still for long periods, regardless of bouts of physical activity, is its own health risk. It is possible to do all of the recommended exercises for fitness and still face the health risks of sitting too much.

Heart Disease

ACSM notes that even active adults can develop heart problems, and everyone needs to know the warning signs of heart disease.


Garber, Carol Ewing Ph.D., FACSM, (Chair); Blissmer, Bryan Ph.D.; Deschenes, Michael R. PhD, FACSM; Franklin, Barry A. Ph.D., FACSM; Lamonte, Michael J. Ph.D., FACSM; Lee, I-Min M.D., Sc.D., FACSM; Nieman, David C. Ph.D., FACSM; Swain, David P. Ph.D., FACSM. "Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise," Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 7 - pp 1334-1359 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb SPECIAL COMMUNICATIONS: Position Stand.

Press release: ACSM Issues New Guidelines on Quantity and Quality of Exercise," June 28, 2011. Accessed June 28, 2011.

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