How Much Exercise Do You Need?

By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D.

While any amount of physical activity is better than none, the leading health authorities (American College of Sports Medicine, U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines, and others) recommend the following (or something very close). No matter how much exercise you plan on getting, be sure to get your healthcare provider’s approval before beginning any new exercise program.

Aerobic (cardio) exercise: This type of exercise includes walking, jogging, biking, working out on an elliptical machine—any exercise that gets your heart pumping and lungs working a little harder. Check out our Exercise Articles for cardio workouts and a week-by-week plan.

These exercise guidelines are for healthy adults.1 Work up to these goals at your own pace, always challenging yourself. If you have heart disease or another condition, consult with your doctor on what level is best for you. Some people with heart disease may be able to follow these guidelines under the supervision of their doctor; others have to take it down a few notches.

  • To help prevent heart disease and other chronic conditions, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, preferably spread out over five days (for instance, five, 30-minute sessions per week).


  • Log in at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, done on at least three days of the week.

If you need to lose weight, 150 to 250 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (or half that amount of vigorous exercise or some combo of the two) per week will most likely result in modest weight loss.2 But if you push it past 250 minutes weekly, you should see significantly more pounds shed. And 150 to 250 minutes weekly can also help you maintain body weight after a weight loss, although more minutes are even more effective.

Strength training 1: Free weights, machines or exercise bands all do the same thing: Make you stronger, give your body a more toned look, and help fight the shrinking lean body mass that comes with age. For examples of strength training moves, check out the Center for Disease Control’s site. It was designed for older people but the exercises (click through all four stages) are appropriate for all ages.

  • Do exercises for both upper and lower body, two to three times per week
  • Do two to three sets per exercise
  • Aim for 10 to 12 repetitions per set.

Flexibility training (stretching) 1: These exercises can improve posture, stability and balance, but it’s not clear whether they have any link to heart disease prevention.

  • Do these at least twice a week; you’ll see the greatest gains if done daily.
  • Hold your stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, until you feel slight discomfort. Older folks may see even more improvements in range of motion if stretches are held for 30 to 60 seconds.

Check out our Exercise Articles to put these guidelines into action with a week-by-week fitness plan. No matter what your fitness level, this plan will make you fitter and stronger.

Consult your health care provider to determine a safe level of exercise for you.


1 Garber, CE, et al.  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
2 Donnelly, JE. Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2009, Volume 41,  Issue 2, pp 459-471.


This article was excerpted from “The Power of Exercise: How Exercise May Help Prevent and Treat Heart Disease” by by Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D.

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