How much should you exercise to gain health benefits?

How much should you exercise to gain health benefits?

We all know that we should exercise to feel benefits to health, but how much should we be doing?

 Guidelines are set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), these guidelines are mirrored by the NHS here in the UK. 

For adults aged between 19 – 64 years of age should aim for the following: 

150 minutes (2 and a half hours) to 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week 


75 minutes (1 and a quarter hours) to 150 minutes (2 and a half hours) of vigorous aerobic activity each week or an equivalent of both. 

Preferably spread over the week. 

What is moderate activity? Can be as easy as brisk walking (not strolling) or cycling on level ground; mowing the lawn. The purpose here is to raise your heart rate which will in turn make you breathe faster and you should feel warmer. If we use the ‘talk test’, you should be able to still talk, but wouldn’t be able to sing a full song. 

What is vigorous activity? This is when the activity level increases, it could be jogging/running; skipping; cycling fast or on a hill; aerobics style fitness classes. The purpose here is to make you breathe faster and harder, you shouldn’t be able to say more than a few words without having to pause for breath. 

The key is to always exercise as if your life depends on it…..which quite frankly….it does. The effort that you put in is mirrored in the results you receive. Remember the phrase, you only get out what you put in. It has been found that 75 minutes of vigorous activity can give similar benefits to 150 minutes of moderate activity. So if we work out harder and more focused, we don’t have to do it for as long to still receive benefits to health! More effort saves time! 

One easy way is to think about doing 30 minutes five times per week. 

The ACSM and the NHS also state that we should also participate in muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups 2 or more days a week. Major muscle groups are: legs, hips, back, abdominals, chest, shoulders and arms. Muscle strengthening is necessary for daily movement, building and maintaining strong bones, assisting in developing a healthy lifestyle, regulating blood pressure and also regulating blood sugars. 

What is muscle strengthening? This is any activity that helps to strengthen muscles, this can include, lifting weights, using a resistance band (watch out for examples of this on Twitter and Instagram soon!) using own body weight (again watch out for this), Pilates, yoga and even heavy gardening (digging/moving heavy potted plants). This type of exercise is usually counted in SETS and REPS. 

REPS are repetitions – 1 rep is 1 complete movement SETS are a group of repetitions done together So, how many of these should we do? 

The guidelines state that we should be aiming for 8 – 12 repetitions of each strength exercise and do at least one set of each. To gain health benefits from this type of exercise, we should aim to do the repetitions to the point where the last one is quite difficult and you would struggle to do another. 

Muscle strengthening can be done on the same day as the aerobic activity or a different day. But remember, some activities can be classed as both aerobic and strengthening, this can include circuit training, Zumba Toning, team sports. 


  •  Improvement to health 
  • Improvement to sleep patterns 
  • Maintains a healthy weight 
  • Can assist in a weight loss programme 
  • Manages stress levels 
  • Improvement to life quality 
  • Improves social time 
  • Lifts mood 
  • Reduces anxiety 

Health benefits can also include reductions in the chance of developing the following: 

  • Up to 40% reduction in Type II Diabetes 
  • Up to 35% reduction in Cardiovascular Disease 
  • Up to 30% reduction in Falls, Depression and Dementia 
  • Up to 25% reduction in Joint and Back Pain 
  • Up to 20% reduction in Colon and Breast Cancers 

Always try to be active…..move more, sit less

 Keep muscles and bones strong

 As people age they should also include balance work, this is to reduce the risk of falling. Balance work can be as easy as standing on one leg as you brush your teeth. Always balance on alternating legs to maintain balance within the body. 

Finally, don’t think that you have to immediately start trying to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days, small steps all lead to big goals. Try doing 10 minutes at a time and gradually increase. It is advisable to check with a medical professional before starting any new fitness programme, especially if you already have health conditions present. 

The guidelines apply to both people new to exercise and individuals who are currently exercising. If you are already active are you still reaching the recommended amount and are you putting 100% into your activity programme? Just going to a class doesn’t count, you have to put everything into the session too. Remind yourself that you only get out what you put in! 

For individuals new to exercise, as long as you make a start and commit to being a fitter and healthier version of you then the time is always right to begin. 

Make a start today! Good luck.