How Often Should You Exercise?

by Suzanne Hiscock
When it comes to weight loss you may have wondered how often to exercise. Do you have to work out every single day, or should you allow a day or two of rest in between? And does it differ when you’re doing cardio workouts or weight training workouts?

How often you should exercise is a complicated question.  It depends on a variety of factors:
 
  • Are you new to exercise?
  • Do you have any injuries or limitations?
  • What is your health like?
  • What kind of exercise do you want to do?
  • What does exercise mean to you?

The recommended minimum amount of exercise per day according to NHI is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minute of vigorous exercise per week.  Or a combination of the two.

One hundred and fifty minutes works out to two hours and thirty minutes a week.  So, technically, you could break that down into seven 21-minute sessions of moderate exercise, and do that every day.

But when it comes to exercise, variety is the key. And you might want to work out longer on some days, and not so much on other days.


How Often Should Beginners Exercise?

Depending on your personal fitness goals, how often you should exercise will vary.  But it’s important to work your way UP to the minimum amount of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week..
 
Exercising too hard or too often can cause injuries.  And if you overdo it, the soreness you feel may make you swear off exercise all together!

Here's how to get an idea of a starting off point:
 
  1. Write down how much exercise you get now each day.  Even if it’s walking.  Walking *is* exercise, too.
  2. Decide on what type of exercise you’re going to do  Will you be doing cardio?  Weight training?  A combination?
  3. Check out the minimum for cardio and weight training down below. What’s the minimum of that you can do each week?
  4. Create a workout plan.  It could be something as simple as walk around the block each day.  Pro Tip:  Start off with exercises that you love to do!
 
Workout Planner:  Plan Your Workouts and Print Out a Schedule


How Often Should You Do Weight Training?

Most experts say that weight training should not be done every day because resistance exercises that stress your muscles actually create small tears in the muscle fibers, and the muscles then need 24-48 hours to heal and repair themselves.

Aim for 2 to 3 strength training sessions per week, lifting weights heavy enough to fatigue the muscles (or a few reps before). Beginners can start with one set of 8 to 10 exercises that covers all the muscle groups.

Don’t have any weights?  You can do body weight exercises such as pushups, squats or tricep dips.

Free Download:  10 Minute Workout for Your Hips, Butt and Thighs
 

How Often Should You Do Cardio?

Cardio workouts get your heart pumping and can be done 3 to 5 times a week, for 20 to 60 minute sessions.  Brisk walking, swimming, low-impact aerobics, using an elliptical machine or moderate paced bicycle riding shouldn’t strain your muscles too much and they can help you burn more calories and aid in weight loss.

See:  Calculate Your Target Heart Rate Zone
 

How Often Should You Do Stretching Exercises?


It seems everybody forgets about stretching, yet it’s an important part of any exercise program.  

Stretch at least 2 to 3 times a week minimum and up to 5 to 7 times a week, ideally.  Stretch all muscle groups for 15 to 30 seconds per rep.

The ideal time to stretch is right after a cardio workout.

My favorite book on stretching/flexibility: Full-Body Flexibility by Jay Blahnik
 

Should You Exercise Every Day?


Yes, you should be doing some kind of activity every day.  You don’t want to sit or lie down all day, right?

Mix up the type of exercise you’re doing so that you’re not doing the same type on consecutive days.
 
But give yourself at least one full day off from any kind of official exercise routines.  A day off from working out is a great way to not only allow some well-deserved rest for your body, but also to help you relax mentally and emotionally.

Even though working out is mostly a physical activity, your mind and emotions are involved too, and pushing yourself too hard can actually have some adverse effects in the form of feeling stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed or “burned out.”

See:  Effectively Listening to Your Body

On your day off, you can still engage in physical activities, but try to keep them “unofficial” - activities like window shopping, playing with the kids in the backyard or taking a relaxing stroll on the beach are great ways to relax, recharge and restore your physical and mental energy.


A Typical Week of Exercise Might Look Like This


Monday:  Cardio (walk)  + Stretch
Tuesday:  Weight Training (Upper Body) + Stretch
Wednesday:  Cardio ( walk/jog)  +  Stretch
Thursday: Weight Training (Lower Body) + Stretch
Friday:  Cardio (Bikram Yoga)  + Stretch
Saturday: Cardio (hike) + Stretch
Sunday:  Active Rest (light walking, light gardening)

No matter how often you exercise, you need to listen to your body because there is such a thing as overtraining.

Symptoms of overtraining include:  
 
  • fatigue that won’t go away despite rest;
  • plateau/decrease in exercise performance;
  • problems sleeping;
  • moodiness;
  • loss of appetite and weight (and not in a good way);
  • muscle soreness;
  • increased resting heart rate.


How Long Should You Work Out?

The duration of your work out depends on you and what kind of workout you’re doing.

In a way, it’s not the amount of time; it’s what you do with that time.

If you spend 60 minutes weight training but half of that is spent talking with other people or you’re not working out very hard, then it’s not really a 60 minute workout, right?

The only way you’ll know how long your workout should be is to start working out.  If you’re a beginner, keep your workouts short.  Once you get an idea of what you can do, you can increase the duration of your workouts.

For example, if you don’t walk a lot, maybe a 15 minute cardio workout will be good for you.

Jump in, get a feel for things and then make adjustments.

Must Read
The Dangers of Over-Exercising and 4 Ways to Combat It
A Simple Solution to Exercise Boredom
10 Most Effective Ways To Get the Most Out of Your Cardio Workout
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About the Author

Suzanne is the owner of FitWatch. She's had strong interest in nutrition and exercise for over 20 years, and is an ACE-certified Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach. Back in 2002, she started FitWatch.com because she wanted to help people lose weight by creating helpful tools and calculators. A huge fan of calorie counting, Suzanne created the FitWatch Fitness Tracker to make it easy for people to count their calories.