How much exercise should you do per day?

It’s easy to find reasons not to exercise. But we all know the health benefits: reduced risk of chronic disease, weight control, increased energy, better mental health, and so on. You probably want to stay fit and healthy, but are not keen on spending hours at the gym each day. I hear you.

So, what do the Australian Government guidelines say? 

You should do 1 hour 15 minutes to 5 hours of weekly exercise, depending on the activity.

You should do 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate intensity exercise. Moderate intensity activities include brisk walking, dancing, golf, social tennis and even some household jobs like cleaning windows or raking leaves. You should still be able to talk during these activities.

Vigorous activity takes more effort, making you huff and puff, like running or fast cycling or playing netball. If you do vigorous intensity activity, you can reduce the total to 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours across the week. Or you can do an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise, which may require maths if you want to meet the guidelines exactly. It can be hard to motivate yourself to sustain exercise that makes you breathless – you may have more success by joining a sporting team, like a local running group, or going to a regular gym class, like spin.

How much exercise should you do per day? You should be active every day.

The guidelines recommend daily movement. You may need to change your daily habits to ensure you’re active every day. Often this is easiest by incorporating incidental exercise into your day, such as walking.

There are many benefits to walking, such as improving your heart health. Heart Foundation says that nine out of ten Australians could reduce the risk of heart disease by walking as little as 15 minutes each day. Fifteen minutes of walking doesn’t seem like much – perhaps it’s time to look at your day and work out how you can increase your incidental walking. Can you walk to the train station? Could you do a lap of the park during lunch break? If you can up it to 30 minutes, Heart Foundations says your risk of heart disease and heart attack drops significantly.

Build your muscle strength at least twice a week.

The government guidelines also recommend doing muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week. If you’re like me, you might groan at the thought of pumping iron. Don’t worry, as there are other options. Yes, muscle strengthening exercises include lifting weights and using body weight exercises like push-ups.  But you can also improve your strength by doing yoga and pilates, or participating in sports that build muscle, like running, cycling, throwing and climbing. I started incorporating light weights into my gym sessions, and over time I’ve come to enjoy it – especially seeing my arms become more toned. (You can check out my home workout here.)

Here’s a summary of your weekly exercise goals.

In a nutshell:

  • 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate intensity activity or 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous activity each week
  • Be active every day
  • Do muscle strengthening exercises twice a week

Start small

If you struggle to meet these recommendations, keep in mind that doing some exercise is better than doing none. You can also work your way up to daily exercise and increased intensity over time. You may like to read our article on how to start exercising when you’re unfit.

You can access the Australian Department of Heath’s guidelines to physical activity here.

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