We’re all in agreement that exercise is a healthy and beneficial activity. If we make said exercise a regular part of our lives, even better. But, how often should you work out? Well, it depends on what you’re aiming for.
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommends that “for substantial health benefits,” adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. And, preferably, it should be spread throughout the week. Being physically active five days a week is good. But doing something active every day of the week is even better.
And, in the case of exercise, it pays to do more than the bare minimum. Those same health guidelines note that exercising for 300 minutes (five hours) each week shows further benefits. We’re talking reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, certain cancers, and even premature death. So, it really pays to get up and move. But, depending on your own personal goals, how much you need to move can vary.
How Often Should You Work Out If…
…You Want to Lose Weight
“Thirty to 45 minutes of daily exercise will help with weight loss. But honestly, to really see weight loss and feel a change, you need to correct eating habits,” says Aaptiv Trainer Kelly Chase. That’s because high-calorie foods and improper portion sizes can sabotage any exercise regimen.
Daily exercise can mean walking, jogging, playing a sport, strength training, yoga, pilates, dancing, boxing, or whatever else you’re into. The point is to get out there and do it. The more intense the workout, the more calories you’ll burn.
…You Want to Maintain Your Weight
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150-250 minutes of physical activity each week to maintain weight. They note that this amount might result in modest weight loss, but should be enough to prevent weight gain—assuming that a reasonably healthy diet is being followed.
Chase mentions that it’s important to eat enough calories to properly fuel your metabolism to maintain weight. If you’re already at a healthy weight, then roughly 2000 calories per day is ideal, but everyone’s exact needs vary. If you’re concerned about maintaining weight, a dietitian can help you find your individual calorie sweet spot.
…You Want to Build Muscle
Ask a bodybuilder how often they lift. You’ll probably hear the benefits of targeting individual muscle groups once per week with intense weight training sessions. Ask another athlete, and you might hear the merits of regular full-body training to hit muscle groups multiple times per week. Fortunately, people in lab coats are curious as to who’s right.
In a study published in Sports Medicine, researchers investigated training frequency, and found that “training twice a week promotes superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week.” Hypertrophic outcomes is a fancy phrase for muscle growth. The study continues: “It can, therefore, be inferred that the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth.” So, if you’re only targeting your chest once a week, you may be leaving some muscle on the table.
And, don’t forget about your diet, as you need to feed those newly forming muscles. “If you want to build muscle, you’ll need to eat in a surplus to what you’re burning,” says Chase. For most of us, that means more than 2,000 calories per day, but that number can increase substantially based on your weight and the intensity of your workouts. To figure out your exact number, she suggests seeking out the help of a nutritionist or personal trainer who can tailor a plan to your needs.
…You’re Training for an Endurance Race
When you’re training for a marathon, triathlon, or extra-long bike race, weekly activity minutes go out the window. Training is often measured in miles and gradually increases as you progress, so you should expect to spend a lot of hours training. And, especially if you’re new to the sport, you should consider consulting a coach for a detailed plan. Either way, don’t skimp on rest and recovery.
“Rest days are very important,” says Chase. Building in “two rest days per week is beneficial so that your body has enough time to recover and repair.” That doesn’t mean that you need to sit on the couch all day, however. You can still go for a leisurely walk or bike ride on your off days—just don’t do anything too strenuous. That way, you’ll have enough in the tank to make the most of those other five days on the week.
When it comes to deciding how often should you work out, it’s most important to evaluate your goals and your lifestyle. Both play a major role in your ability to fit in exercise and get the results you’re working toward.