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The Optimal Amount of Physical Activity: Breaking It Down

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

How Many Hours a Week Should You Exercise, Exactly?

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If your hectic schedule makes it difficult to fit in a visit to the gym, you may ask yourself, “how many hours a week should I exercise, really?”

Well, even experts debate over that very question — but it turns out, you might not be doing enough (or you may be doing too much). A study published in Circulation discovered that 30 minutes of exercise a day — the recommended amount — might not be sufficient to maintain the health of your heart.

In reality, you might require four times that. Researchers found that the quantity of exercise you engage in has a direct relationship to the health of your heart — the more you engage in, the healthier your heart will be — and they propose that the new goal should be two full hours a day of moderate exercise.

But what about a higher-intensity workout such as your preferred HIIT class — don’t you get more value from that? While you will undoubtedly burn more calories by pushing yourself harder for shorter periods of time, moderate exercise does hold its worth, states Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., the creator of TS Fitness in New York City. “You will experience a pleasant, steady flow of blood flowing into the left ventricle, which must be robust since it pumps blood to the rest of the body,” he remarks. When you get your heart pumping at a slower and steadier pace, it allows the ventricles to completely expand and contract with each beat. “High-intensity training, on the other hand, does not accomplish this as effectively, although it is more effective at burning calories,” explains Tamir. When you push yourself too hard, your heart beats too quickly to achieve the same effect — think of it as the distinction between taking short, quick breaths versus deep, long ones.

The bottom line: How many hours a week you should exercise will vary depending on your objectives. And while every body is unique, science does have some statistics on how long you should exert yourself depending on what you’re aiming for.

Goal: Have a Healthier Heart

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Time at the Gym Per Week: 10 hours

To fully enjoy the benefits of a healthier heart, the researchers of the Circulation study are on to something: They concluded that an exercise routine of two hours per day reduces the risk of heart disease by 35 percent.

And indeed, two hours appears to be a lot, but researchers were only examining moderate physical activity — therefore, your journey to and from the subway is included! To accumulate more steps, participate in walking discussions, take a few rounds around the workplace during lunchtime, or embark on a pleasant walk with your closest friend.

That’s not to imply, however, that the conventional suggestion of 30 minutes per day has no cardiovascular benefits at all. Instead, this shorter duration of physical activity decreases your likelihood of heart disease by approximately 10 percent. Therefore, a smaller percentage, but still something.

Tamir advises his clients seeking a healthier heart routine to engage in a combination of high intensity and moderate intensity cardiovascular exercises such as HIIT workouts. “This has been demonstrated to significantly enhance your body’s VO2 max, which is the body’s capacity to utilize oxygen,” he remarks. A greater amount of blood flow expands your arteries and reduces the probability of obstructions.

Objective: Boost Your Strength

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Time at the Gym Per Week: 30 minutes

Strength training is about much more than just developing strong muscles. Studies have indicated that regular resistance training diminishes your risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure while enhancing your cardiovascular health, not to mention your self-confidence. (Here are 11 additional health and fitness advantages of lifting weights.)

The remarkable aspect of strength training is that you don’t need to dedicate a significant amount of time to reap these benefits. “In many instances, increasing strength can be achieved with as little as one training session per week,” says Tamir. “The disparity in progress between training once, twice, or thrice per week is negligible,” he points out.

Objective: Enhance Your Endurance

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Time at the Gym Per Week: 3 to 4.5 hours

Regardless of whether you’re in the midst of marathon training or simply aspire to run a 5K without pauses, developing endurance is crucial for a well-rounded workout. To improve your endurance, it’s all about the quality and not the quantity of gym time. A study published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise discovered that HIIT is more effective than performing the same amount of total work but at a lower intensity. (See also: The Distinction Between Muscular Endurance and Muscular Strength, Elucidated)

But don’t rely on settling into only one routine if you desire to enhance endurance. “The body will adjust and require to be challenged by a more demanding routine. Otherwise, the advantages associated with the exercise will yield a low return,” clarifies Tamir. Give the following endurance plan a try to keep things novel, he suggests:

  • Day 1: Brief run for 20 to 30 minutes; strength train for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Interval HIIT run for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Strength train for 40 to 50 minutes
  • Day 4: Rest day or speedy walk for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Hill run for 20 to 30 minutes
  • Day 6: Strength train for 40 to 50 minutes
  • Day 7: Swim or bike for 30 to 40 minutes

Objective: Be in a Better Mood

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Time at the Gym Per Week: 2 to 4 hours

As Elle Woods once famously stated, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you joyful.” (Amen.) Studies have long demonstrated that regular physical activity can aid in reducing depression and anxiety, and it can even earn you a serious natural high with the combination of serotonin and dopamine released whenever you exercise. (More: The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise, According to Experts)

“Workouts that are as brief as 20 minutes per day can generate a 12-hour mood enhancing benefit,” notes Tamir. He frequently observes mood enhancements occurring within five minutes of commencing a training session. For optimal mood boosting advantages, strive for 20 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise each day.

Objective: Get Better Sleep

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Time at the Gym Per Week: 2.5 to 3.5 hours

Not all sleep is created equal. Your body necessitates what professionals refer to as “slow-wave sleep,” which is responsible for bodily repair and maintenance in order to completely recharge and prevent you from feeling sluggish. According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercise is exceptional for amplifying not only the duration of your sleep, but also the quality.

To achieve the best zzz’s, carve out time in the morning for a 30- to 45-minute run five times per week. Exercising too vigorously or too close to bedtime, and it may actually have the opposite effect, states Tamir. Why? Since exercise also generates adrenaline, hitting the gym right before you hit the mattress may leave you lying wide awake.

(You can perform this bedtime yoga sequence prior to sleeping and still achieve a restful night’s rest, nevertheless.)

Objective: Incinerate More Calories

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Duration at the Gym Per Week: 40 to 60 minutes

If you’re fixated on the number of calories burnt during your gym sessions, you might believe that spending extended periods of time in the cardio room is the way to go. However, fortunately, there exists a more time-effective approach to achieving your targets: Scientists from the University of Wisconsin conducted experiments on Tabata-style workouts and discovered that this high-intensity interval training annihilated 15 calories every minute.

Give a 20-minute Tabata session a try two to three times a week — making sure to allot at least two recovery days in between — to obtain the maximum benefits in terms of calorie burning. (Just so you’re aware, here’s the distinction between HIIT and Tabata.)

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