How Much Exercise is (Really) Enough?


In February 2009, the American College of Sports Medicine published Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults. In this position statement they revised their 2001 position and raised the bar on the amount of exercise they recommend – from 150 minutes to 250 minutes a week.

In my book, A Nurse Practitioner’s Guide to Smart Health Choices, I went out on a limb and exceeded the ACSM guidelines at the time and recommended 240 minutes of exercise a week at your target heart rate as the minimum amount of exercise needed for good health and weight maintenance. I went even further and, in the book, recommended 300 minutes of exercise a week if you are really serious about losing weight.

The Old Guidelines

Back in 2001 the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) along with the American Heart Association (AHA) only recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week (or 30 minutes, 5 days a week). Though they admitted that 200 to 300 minutes a week was probably necessary for long term weight loss.

They knew back in 2001, just as I knew and you know, too (even if you wish it weren’t true) that 150 minutes of exercise a week is just not enough if you want to lose weight. I think the reason they didn’t publish more realistic guidelines back then is because they didn’t think you could take it. I think they figured if they could just get you moving a little, it was better than nothing. But it is now 8 years later and we Americans just keep getting fatter and fatter – 66% of adults are now overweight or obese. We’ve GOT to get moving!

So How Much Exercise Is Really Enough?

That depends on your goals. Do you want to lose weight? Control blood pressure? Blood sugar? Lower cholesterol? Reduce stress? Improve depression?

Do you want to get fit? Play a sport? Climb a mountain? Have more energy? Build stamina? Get stronger? Break through your own barriers and limitations?

My Prescription for Exercise

The problem for many of us is not the lack of willpower, its lack of time. We Americans are as overworked as we are under-exercised. Yet in spite of our long work hours, most of us still manage to find a lot more than four hours (240 minutes) each week to spend in front of the TV or computer – motionless – and often snacking.

I believe in a concept called “the golden hour”. Whatever your life, your schedule, or your family make-up you need and deserve one hour every single day that belongs completely to you and your body. Building an hour into your schedule every single day to exercise will pay bigger dividends and bring greater happiness over time than any other activity. I know, I know – life happens – but if you have a “golden hour” in your day every day, you can still get your 240 to 300 minutes a week even if a couple of days throw you off course.

What Kind of Exercise?

It does not matter. It can be anything – but it must be in addition to your normal life activities. For the health of your heart (which is a muscle, don’t forget) and for weight loss aerobic activities are best. Walking, biking, swimming and running are all aerobic activities. These activities should be performed at your target heart rate:

Your Target Heart Rate Range for Exercise = 220 minus your age times 60% and times 80%

You want to exercise at heart rates that are between 60% and 80% of 220 minus your age. Every minute you spend at your target heart rate strengthens your heart and burns calories, cholesterol, blood sugar, and fat. When you can sustain your target heart rate for an hour you will begin to experience the pleasures of being fit. To maintain your fitness you must constantly challenge your own capacity and endurance.

[Note: Do not begin a vigorous exercise program without checking with your health professioanl first, particualrly if you have not been active in the past.]

Once you have your aerobic activity going, add some weight work 3 days a week. In addition, find a stretching activity you like – yoga is my favorite – or Pilates, Tai Chi, martial arts, whatever trips your tune.

As you begin to incorporate these activities into your life you will begin to enjoy the body with which you have been blessed. It will no longer feel like an adversary – it will become a source of strength.


This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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