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How much exercise do you really need?


When it comes to exercise, many people are confused about the amount they actually need to be doing. Recent statistics show that more than 60% of Australian adults are overweight or obese, which poses serious health risks for the population. Clearly, we need to exercise more and make exercise a priority – but it’s hard when you’re unsure as to how much exercise you actually need to be doing. The guidelines can be confusing, and they seem to change on a regular basis – but the underlying principles remain the same. There’s a certain benchmark of exercise that every Australian adult needs to be doing, which will give you a whole range of health benefits that will improve almost every aspect of your life.

Exercising regularly will:

Improve your brain function
Improve your muscle function
Improve your bone mass
Improve your cardiovascular health
Increase your lung capacity
Strengthen your blood vessels
Help you sleep better
Help you breathe better
Help prevent a whole range of diseases, from diabetes to Alzheimer’s
Reduce anxiety and depression
Lower your risk of cancer
Improve your balance and prevent the risk of falls in later life
Improve your endorphin levels and help you feel happier

If you’re not convinced by now, you should be – it’s hard to think of any other activity that will give you such a wide range of incredible (and life-sustaining) benefits. But just how much do you need to do to access all these advantages? And how often do you need to do it? And what exactly do you need to do? 

Here’s the breakdown.

How much exercise do you need to stay healthy and improve overall cardiovascular health?

If your goal is to maintain fitness for everyday life and to ward off poor health and diseases, then the Australian Government’s national exercise guidelines recommend that you accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week; or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week (or some combination of both). The minimum amount of exercise you need to do then, is two and a half hours of moderate intensity activity, or one and a half hours of high intensity activity per week, just to maintain your level of health. Keep in mind that this is the bare minimum amount of exercise that you need to be doing – and if you want to achieve more than just basic health, you might need to be doing a lot more.

Moderate intensity activities are those that require some effort, but you are still able to maintain a conversation. These can include brisk walking, swimming, dancing, moderate-paced cycling, social tennis, or similar activities.

Vigorous intensity activities are the ones that make you huff and puff, and make it hard to carry on a conversation. These types of activities can include running, fast cycling, aerobics and many types of competitive sport.

The guidelines also recommend that you perform some kind of muscle-strengthening activity at least two days each week. Muscle-strengthening activities include bodyweight exercises (such as push ups, squats or crunches), weight training, resistance training, yoga and Pilates.

Minimising the amount of time you spend sitting is also an extremely important part of improving your health. Your risk of metabolic problems increases the more hours you spend sitting each day, even if you are achieving the amount of recommended daily physical activity. Make sure you are breaking up your periods of sitting still, and aim to move around for at least a minute or two for each hour you spend sitting.

A good way to remember the guidelines is to aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity five times a week. Even better would be to aim for 30 minutes of activity every day. Click here to read more ideas about how to find your 30 minutes of exercise a day.

How much exercise do you need to lose weight?

When it comes to weight loss, you will need to increase the amount of activity that you do per week. Studies suggest that 300 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity per week could be the magic number to help you lose weight and body fat.

How much exercise do you need to lower blood pressure and cholesterol?

If you’re looking to improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it is recommended that you aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise three to four times per week.

How much exercise do you need to improve mental health?

Exercise is well known to relieve symptoms of depression, and studies have shown that 200 minutes of low intensity exercise such as walking, or 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week can help ease mental stress and mental health symptoms.

How much exercise do you need to get fit?

If you’re focussed on improving your fitness, or you’re pretty fit already, aim to double the minimum requirement listed by the National Exercise Guidelines. The more exercise you do, the better it is (although it’s best not to jump straight into doing more exercise than your body is ready for, but to build up gradually).

For more, check out this handy infographic about exactly how much exercise you need to reap specific health benefits.

What if you don’t think you can achieve this amount of exercise?

For many people, this sounds like a lot of spare time that they may not have to spend on something like exercise. But if you’re short on time, even brief bursts of activity can offer you significant benefits. Maybe you don’t have time to go for a 30-minute walk or jog every day, but you could probably fit in a few five-minute walks instead, perhaps by walking somewhere to get or eat your lunch, parking further away from your destination or walking to talk to colleagues in another building rather than calling them. Or you could try fitting in 5 minutes of running up and down the stairs, or a set of squats while you’re standing at the photocopier or something similar. The important thing is to make regular physical activity a part of your life, rather than something that might get tacked on if you can find the time after you’ve done everything else you need to do. Even a small amount of activity is better than none at all, and over the course of a day you might be surprised to find how your short bursts of exercise add up. Even if you are doing less than the recommended amount, keep in mind that anything is better than nothing.

Need more motivation? Click here to read about how wearing activewear can make you more active. And check out this handy infographic about how different amounts of walking will benefit you