Modern life can be hectic, and many people find it difficult to squeeze in enough exercise all the time. If you find yourself too busy to work out often, or if fitness just isn't really your bag, you may be curious about the least you can do while still maintaining good health. The answer to that question can vary depending on many factors, but there are some general guidelines.

The Different Types of Exercise

There are two main types of exercise. Aerobic exercise, sometimes referred to as cardio, is any exercise that gets your heart rate elevated above a certain point. Common types include brisk walking, running, or bicycling.

The other type is resistance or strength training. This can include weight lifting, but it also includes using resistance tools like bands, or even just bodyweight, to increase your strength. Some yoga is strength training, for example, since you must hold up and manipulate your body. Pushups and pullups are other examples.

young woman using a resistance band for a workout in her home


The Official Recommendations

Most health organizations recommend that you do at least 150 minutes total of moderate aerobic exercise each week. If you do more intense exercise, such as running rather than walking, you can reduce that to 75 minutes a week. In addition, you should do at least two sessions of strength training each week, making sure to work the whole body.

middle aged woman speed walking through park


The Frequency

150 minutes may seem daunting, but there is no specific frequency recommended. You can break up your aerobic workouts into shorter sessions, such as a half-hour walk each day or short but high-intensity interval workouts. You can also break up your weight training sessions into multiple smaller sessions, such as spending one day focusing on your lower and one day on your upper body.

workout plan concept notebook and healthy foods


The Duration

When you're planning your exercise routine, it's important to think about the duration. For the best health benefits, your cardio sessions should last for at least 10 minutes at a time, plus a warm-up and cool down. Upping it to 30 minutes at a time is even better. Remember, this doesn't mean you have to do a 30-minute run. A brisk walk is aerobic.

young woman on treadmill taking her pulse


Daily Exercise

You don't necessarily need to exercise every day, although most experts agree it's better to squeeze in a short session each day. Even if it means just walking laps around your office during breaks, a little exercise every day is best. This example also benefits you by reducing the amount of time you spend sitting.

people walking and talking around a bright office


Getting Fitter

The recommendations above will maintain health and fitness for the average person, though if this is a significant increase from the work you were doing before, you will notice improvements for a while.

If, however, you want to advance your fitness level, you'll need to do more than the basics. Whether you want to lose weight or build muscle, daily exercise or more significant sessions are probably necessary. The good news: they come with additional health benefits. Many people achieve the best results when they work out for between 45 to 90 minutes a day, three to four days a week, using a personalized fitness plan.

fit man in his living room lifting weights


The Importance of Diet

While exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle, it isn't the only element. It's important to make sure you're eating right, too. Incorporating more vegetables and other healthy foods into your diet can help you look and feel better, especially if you're doing as little exercise as possible. It can also help your exercise be more beneficial, not to mention fuel you for the effort.

cropped image of a woman eating a healthy bowl meal


Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough fluids also helps you stay healthy and maximizes the perks of fitness. One thing to watch out for, however, is the risk of drinking empty calories. While sugary drinks might hydrate, they can also make it easy to put on weight or develop other health problems. Sugar is also a simple carbohydrate that might give you a little energy spike but will quickly leave you to crash.

young woman drinking a glass of water


Stay Motivated

It can be easy to lose your motivation to exercise. Skipping one day because you're particularly busy can spiral out into giving up on your exercise routine altogether. That's why most experts recommend trying to find something you genuinely enjoy. Whether that's walking while listening to an audiobook, running on a treadmill while watching television, or cycling along a beautiful nature trail, having fun while you work out means you'll be more likely to stick with it.

young couple smiling biking along nature trail


The Holistic Approach

Another thing to consider is that physical health isn't the only meter of wellness. Your mental and emotional health are also critical. Exercise should make you feel good, so if trying to squeeze that jog or pilates class into your day is doing nothing but causing you more stress, you might need to drop one or two sessions a week — and possibly re-evaluate your schedule in the long run.

Remember that a little exercise is better than none, and taking a break doesn't ruin or take away from all the achievements you've made so far. Some people also find that combining social events with fitness help keep them happy and healthy. Consider joining a hiking or running group.

group of young people walking through the forest


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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.