How Much to Exercise Weekly Based on Your Goals

Regular exercise is important for health and weight maintenance. Best practices suggest including a mixture of aerobic exercise and strength training, but how much time should you actually spend exercising each week to meet your goals?

woman jogging in a park

There are several benefits of including regular physical exercise in your routine. It reduces your risk of disease, promotes weight management, improves mobility, and improves mental health.1

Despite knowing that physical activity is beneficial, it can still be hard to include. This article will help you create realistic exercise goals by quantifying how much movement you should aim for in a week, as well as the types of exercise to help you meet your health goals. 

How Much Exercise Per Week: General Recommendation

The CDC recommends that all healthy adults should complete a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise, as well as two days devoted to strength training activities.2

You can break up your exercise sessions to help you meet your goals throughout the week. This can look like thirty minutes for five days of the week or three days with fifty-minute sessions. 

Your body thrives with regular movement, so if possible, try to spread out your exercise and include it into your daily lifestyle. Smaller and frequent sessions might be more realistic for people with a busy schedule, which can help increase compliance.  

Does Age Influence Physical Activity Targets? 

Age can play a role in how much physical activity you should aim to include. Young people are full of energy and have the highest exercise needs. Teenagers should aim to include sixty minutes of aerobic activity every single day.2

Older adults, anyone over the age of 65, should follow the regular guidelines above.2 It is beneficial to also include balance strengthening exercises which reduce the risks of falls and injury. 

I Am Pregnant - Do I Need to Change My Level of Activity? 

The physical activity guidelines during pregnancy are the same as for any other healthy adult.2 Women who are very active prior to getting pregnant, for example, those who go running daily can still continue their routine up to delivery.2

Regular exercise during pregnancy can help manage your blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Exercise also helps to keep your lungs and heart healthy during this period of massive change.2 If you have any questions or concerns about how to safely include activity during your pregnancy, follow up with your physician. 

Physical Activity Recommendations for Adults With Disabilities 

Adults with chronic health conditions are given the same physical activity guidelines as other adults.2 If you suffer from a disability and you are not sure how to safely move your body, consult with your physician or an exercise specialist. 

two pregnant women doing pilates in a studio
Exercise can help improve sleep, energy levels and swelling during pregnancy

Is One Form of Exercise Better Than Others? 

For excellent health, a mixture of aerobic and strength training exercises is recommended. These forms of movement will ensure your body remains strong and agile. 

You may be motivated to target specific types of exercise to achieve different physical goals. For example, if your dream is to complete a marathon, you will change your workout routine to include more aerobic and endurance-style exercises. 

If you are more interested in muscle building, you will probably focus on high-intensity workouts that incorporate different types of weight training exercises

All forms of exercise can be included to help you achieve your health goals. The best type of exercise for you is one that you can do consistently and with joy. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about whether </strong> <a href="/blog/running-burn-belly-fat">running can help burn belly fat</a>.</p>

How Much Should I Exercise For Specific Health Goals?

There are no precise formulas that guarantee you will see results after exercising for a certain number of minutes per week. You will have to try new routines and modify them based on the results (or lack of results) you witness. 

Exercise to Promote Weight Loss 

There are several factors that impact how easily weight loss is achieved. However, the basic math that we follow to promote weight loss is to have more energy expenditure than energy going into the body. 

Daily movement can help you balance your caloric intake and help you move forward in your weight loss journey. An article published in 2021 suggests that people who want to maintain weight loss should aim for higher levels of exercise, and target 225-420 minutes per week.3

Everyone will see different results throughout their weight loss journey. Even if the number on the scale is not moving as quickly as you would like, there are other health benefits you are experiencing through being active. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/average-weight-loss-per-week">how much weight you can lose weekly</a>.</p>

Exercise To Lower Cholesterol And Improve Heart Health 

A comprehensive review from 2016 indicated that regular exercise appears to have a positive correlation with improving high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.4HDL is a heart-health-promoting type of blood lipid and higher levels are desirable. 

The literature also suggests that high intensity and vigorous exercise is required to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This type of blood lipid is linked to heart disease, and bringing down your LDL value will improve your overall health status. 

To improve your cholesterol numbers, you should aim to exercise for over thirty minutes five days per week. You should increase the vigor of your workout so that you are at 75-85% of your max heart rate. 

four people running on treadmills in a gym
Training closer to your maximum heart rate can help you increase your aerobic fitness

Exercise To Build Muscle Mass 

Focusing your workout routine on strength training is key to increasing muscle mass. There is also a huge push on making dietary changes to include more protein, which is the key building block for muscle in the body. 

Increasing strength and toning the body requires consistency and long-term dedication. People see results when they vary their routine, attend the gym frequently (three to five days per week), and stay on top of their diet. 

You can safely include three to five different workouts in your routine and complete several repetitions. As you get stronger, you can increase both your weights and the difficulty of your workouts. 

If you’re new to strength training or have any pre-existing injuries, you may benefit from a personal trainer to ensure your movements are safe. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/metabolic-health-strength-training">strength training for metabolic health</a>.</p>

Health Benefits Of Exercise

Regular exercise helps brain health, cardiovascular health, weight maintenance, and even mental health. Exercise can also help your muscles and joints stay nimble and pain-free as you age. 

A review from 2020 illustrates that an increase in exercise improves mental health by reducing depression.5They even found that activity helped to remold the neuroplasticity in your brain and forge new pathways. 

These new pathways are new habits that are developing. The next time you go to use this signal in your brain, it will get easier and easier to do. 

A healthy brain is critical for our aging population. Regular exercise is linked to decreasing the presence of brain degenerative conditions including dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.6,7

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/foods-for-mental-health">foods that support mental health</a>.</p>

Easy Ways To Be More Active

Walking is one of the most accessible forms of physical activity. You can control the intensity of the walk by increasing your pace or choosing a walking path that is filled with hills and challenging terrains. 

The internet is loaded with free workout classes and programs. YouTube is an extremely helpful platform with content that varies in length so you can find something that fits your schedule. 

Following an online instructor releases you from the task of planning your own workout, which can feel like a gift after a busy week filled with other responsibilities. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Try this </strong> <a href="/blog/10-minute-hiit-workout">10-minute HIIT workout to jumpstart fat burning</a>.</p>

a couple walking their standard sized poodle in a suburb
Any amount of regular physical activity that decreases the time you spend sitting is better than nothing!

Can You Get Too Much Exercise?

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, including exercise. Normal amounts of exercise are beneficial, but your body will need rest. If you are consistently injuring yourself or feeling weak after exercise, you may need to take a break. 

Too much exercise can increase your risk of overworking your heart, resulting in cardiac dysfunction.8If you follow the guidelines listed throughout this article you will be operating in the ideal range and it should be sustainable. 

Should You Talk to Your Doctor Before You Start to Exercise? 

Anyone who has suffered from a physical injury should consult with their physician and movement specialist before increasing activity. This also applies to anybody who has recently survived a physical trauma, such as major surgery or a heart attack. 

There are many services and options available to help you meet your exercise goals while staying within your limitations. A physical therapist may be helpful to educate you on how to safely move your body. 

Weekly Exercise Takeaways

Exercise and regular daily movement are a vital part of your health and weight loss plan. Consistently increasing your level of physical activity can help you achieve your weight loss goals faster, decrease blood sugar levels and cholesterol, and improve mental health. 

For most people, 150 minutes of exercise plus two days of strength training will be adequate. If you have the energy and desire you can do a bit more, but be careful you don’t push yourself too hard. 

Your exercise plan should make you sweat but you should always walk away feeling refreshed and challenged, not exhausted or sick. If you suffer from frequent injuries, it could be an  good indicator you are pushing yourself too hard, and you should scale back.  

Finding a way to move your body that you enjoy is an important factor for long-term success. Including social elements may increase the appeal of exercising, so don’t be afraid to invite your friends or join a workout group. 

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References

  1. Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003 
  2. Move More; Sit Less. (2022, June 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm#:%7E:text=Each%20week%20adults%20need%20150,Physical%20Activity%20Guidelines%20for%20Americans.&text=We%20know%20150%20minutes%20of,do%20it%20all%20at%20once 
  3. CELIK, O., & YILDIZ, B. O. (2021). Obesity and physical exercise. Minerva Endocrinology, 46(2). https://doi.org/10.23736/s2724-6507.20.03361-1 
  4. Mann, S., Beedie, C., & Jimenez, A. (2013). Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Medicine, 44(2), 211–221. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0110-5 
  5. Zhao, J., Jiang, W., Wang, X., Cai, Z., Liu, Z., & Liu, G. (2020). Exercise, brain plasticity, and depression. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 26(9), 885–895. https://doi.org/10.1111/cns.13385 
  6. Benefits of Physical Activity. (2022, June 7). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm#brain-health 
  7. de la Rosa, A., Olaso-Gonzalez, G., Arc-Chagnaud, C., Millan, F., Salvador-Pascual, A., García-Lucerga, C., Blasco-Lafarga, C., Garcia-Dominguez, E., Carretero, A., Correas, A. G., Viña, J., & Gomez-Cabrera, M. C. (2020). Physical exercise in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 9(5), 394–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2020.01.004 
  8. Lavie, C. J., O’Keefe, J. H., & Sallis, R. E. (2015). Exercise and the Heart — the Harm of Too Little and Too Much. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(2), 104–109. https://doi.org/10.1249/jsr.0000000000000134

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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