Q: What’s the “right” amount of exercise I should be doing to be healthy?
A: Unfortunately, there is no perfect amount of exercise for every individual.
Let’s break it down a bit further:
Our main goal of exercise should be 3 things:
- Boost endorphins, the “feel good hormones” which improve your mood
- Increasing energy
- Improve function and fitness (muscle, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness)
Exercise should not be used as a way to burn off as many calories as possible in order to lose weight.
Healthy weight loss is achieved primarily through a proper diet, and is enhanced by quality sleep, low stress levels, and fitness (ex. increased muscle will improve metabolism), not through burning calories or “burning fat.”
If you’re not sleeping enough, eating poorly, and under a lot of physical stress, exercise might add to that stress and make it harder for you to achieve proper health and your goal weight.
What contributes to physical stress? In addition to limited sleep/rest and a poor diet, injuries, workouts that are too intense, and acute or chronic illness (think anything from a cold or flu to MS or cancer).
In order to make sure that exercise is helping you to enhance your health, you’ll need to make sure you have the diet, sleep, and stress levels in check first. If your body is under physical stress, but you find exercise helps you to reduce mental stress levels, you can add in low impact activity, such as walks, stretching, and yoga, but nothing too taxing. In this situation, keep your workouts to less than 30 minutes, 3-4 days per week.
If you do have your diet, stress, and sleep relatively under control, and your body is not under physical stress, you’ll then want to find the right amount of activity that makes you feel your best. Experiment with the intensity, from walking and stretching to high intensity interval training and weight lifting. Also experiment with the duration of exercise, from 10 minute increments up to about 45 minutes or an hour at most. Anywhere from 3-6 days per week could be appropriate for you, depending on the type and length of your workouts, and your recovery time.
We can’t properly prescribe a set amount of activity to an entire population, just like we don’t prescribe a specific diet to every single person. The right amount for you will change on a yearly, monthly, or even weekly basis, so it’s important to gauge how you feel each day to determine the right type and amount of activity.