By HYLETE Content Team

Research indicates that even a modest amount of consistent exercise is extremely important to overall health. However, if you want to be the best you can be, what's the optimal workout length?

How much exercise do you need?

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services laid out a set of activity guidelines, which called for:

  • Muscle (strength) training twice a week AND
  • 150 minutes per week of medium-intensity aerobic cardiovascular exercise OR
  • 75 minutes per week of high intensity aerobic activity

As of 2018, a study concluded that only 23% of people are meeting these guidelines.

How long should your workout be?

As with many things in the fitness industry, there's no consensus on what the optimal workout length should be. But let's take the HHS guidelines as a starting point.

  • Strength training twice a week is great, but how long should those workouts last? While some espouse short workouts, it's widely thought that a proper strength training session - either with weights or just bodyweight - should last between 45 minutes and one hour. This allows for time at the beginning and the end of the workout to warm up and cool down, respectively. So, if you warm up for 10 minutes, do your training routine for 30 minutes and cool down for the last 10 minutes, you'll have put in a great workout.
  • Aerobic activity for 75-150 minutes per week may sound daunting for some, but if you break it up, it becomes less intimidating. For instance, if you choose the moderate exercise, you'd only need to partake in cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes, five days per week. It becomes even more accessible if you choose the high intensity path, where if you train five days per week, you'd only need each individual workout to last 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes may not seem like a lot, but studies have shown that even relatively small amounts of running can add years to your life.
  • An important side note: If your job has you sitting around all week, it has been shown that you'll need to double the amount of cardiovascular exercise you do (strength training requirements remain unchanged). So, those with sedentary lives have to work harder at the gym to make up for all that time sitting around. Sorry, computer programmers!

The main takeaway is that even for those with busy lifestyles, taking some time to exercise is very important. If you split the time up throughout the week, you should have no trouble meeting the HHS guidelines. Those wanting to go the extra mile and exceed the guidelines will see additional benefits. Do what's right by your body. You'll be a happier, healthier person.


The Trainer's Take:

Joshua Levesque Joshua Levesque, Certified Trainer

"I get this question a lot! Many people come to me and ask. “How long should I work out for’? I then ask, How much time and work are you willing to invest towards your health and fitness. To start, if we look at the basic recommendations through the CDC, which indicates adults should exercise 150-300 minutes a week. That would be 60 minutes, 2.5 – 5 days a week. However, this recommendation is for health benefits and weight management only, not weight loss. The American College of Sports Medicine research is now suggesting upwards of 90 minutes of physical activity most days of the week with a combination of moderate to vigorous physical activity for weight loss. In fact, more and more research is indicating that intensity, not time has more impact on weight loss. Research has shown that intensity has more to do with overall caloric burn than time alone. So quite simply, I am more worried about asking what a person’s goals are and how much time can they dedicate to chasing those goals? If your goal is just health and weight management than yeah, do whatever physical activity you want for 60 minutes most days of the week. However, if you need to lose weight and only have 30, 45, or 60 minutes a few days a week, that will definitely change how I train you. When writing a program for someone or a team of athletes, I need to ask myself what is the goal and how much time do I have to reach that goal? Based off that info, I will manipulate my intensity accordingly. I recommend for all readers to find a qualified trainer or coach who can help them reach their goals in the time they have to dedicate towards their health."

For more from Joshua, check out his article, What are the Benefits of Rowing?.