How much exercise should I be doing? The short answer for those who really enjoy it, such as the group fitness junkies and endurance athletes among us, is ‘as much as you like’, or rather ‘as much as you can recover well enough from to continue without injury’. Bearing in mind that exercise counts as a ‘stress’ or a demand on our bodies energy resources and should be balanced alongside things that recharge your energy levels such as sleep.
The subtext hidden in that question for the people who don’t fall into those categories, is ‘how little exercise can I get away with doing?’. The short answer here is that you need to provide enough stimulus to your body for it to have to adapt and stay strong.
Here are some general guidelines to have as a minimum to work to per week:
Minimum 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, about 2.5 hours, and this can be divided up however it works best for you (e.g. 5 x 30 minutes or 1 x 1 hr + 2 x 25 minutes). Most of this should be at a low to moderate intensity, but up to about 30 mins at a high intensity, bearing in mind that during a 45 min spin class for example, you would likely only be in a high intensity heart zone for around 10-15 minutes.
Minimum of one strength based workout challenging each of the major muscle groups (e.g. legs, chest, back). Two is probably better and you could combine strength exercises such as squats and push ups with aerobic exercises such as running or jumping in a bootcamp style workout and get more benefit for the spent training. Training with body weight only exercises can be effective however adding resistance from dumbells, barbells, or gym resistance machines can be helpful provided good technique is learned and used.
At least one or two sessions of at least 15-20 minutes focused on flexibility or stretching. Yoga is one option but there are plenty of non-yoga alternatives. This could be done every day if you enjoy it and practice mindfully and respectfully of your body.
In addition, in the category of ‘simple but not necessarily easy’, is to walk as often as you can. This has been found to be good for mental as well as physical health and is beneficial to spend time moving at this pace even if you regularly do other types of higher energy cardio (e.g. running / cycling). Plus, any time you can walk instead of drive it’s healthier for the planet and everybody’s lungs too(!).
My reason for sharing this is that even as someone who loves exercise enough to make it a vocation I recognise that for a lot of people it’s something to be ticked off a to-do list in a life busy with other things, and that’s okay. I think it’s useful to have a reference point that you can look to and say ‘I’ve done enough’ or ‘I didn’t quite get there this week but I know what to work towards’. Again, if you love it, great, go for it. But it’s also okay to just do “enough”.