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30 Days to Health and Fitness

How much exercise you need to improve your health

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Updated September 06, 2012

30 Days to Health and Fitness
Getty Images/Kane Skennar

While many of us focus on losing weight, improving your health has its own rewards. When you focus on health, not weight loss, you feel less pressure (you're not watching the scale all the time, so it doesn't matter if it moves or not) and more of that thing you crave from exercise: Instant gratification.

The scale may not change from one workout to next, but your health can change with just 5 minutes. In fact, just 5 minutes of outdoor exercise can boost your mood and self-esteem. Just 10 minutes can lower your blood pressure for hours and reduce your risk of a heart attack.

The other upside is that it doesn't require as much exercise as losing weight, allowing time to ease into exercise, build strength and endurance gradually and avoid the injury and burnout that can accompany too much exercise.

So, how much exercise do you need to be healthy? The program below offers one answer, incorporating the Physical Activity Guidelines set out by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These guidelines suggest:

A few caveats:

  • Don't be a slave to the workouts or schedule: This is just a sample program, so it won't work for everyone. If it's too much, take extra rest days if you feel sore, tired or your performance suffers. Modify the schedule or workouts to fit your needs
  • See your doctor if you have any medical conditions, illnesses or injuries
  • Substitute your own workouts if you have other activities you enjoy

30 Days to Health and Fitness

Week 1

Goals: 3 days of cardio, 2 days of strength training with 1 set of each exercise, 2 days of active rest

Week 2

Goals: 4 days of cardio, 2 days of strength training with 2 sets of each exercise, 1 day of active rest

This week, your progression is adding one more day of light cardio and 1 more set of each strength exercise

 

Week 3

Goals: 4 days of cardio, 2 days of strength training with 2 sets of each exercise, 1 day of active rest

This week is the same as last week, with some new cardio options

Week 4

Goals: 5 days of cardio, 2 days of strength training with 2-3 sets of each exercise

This week is the same as last week, with one extra day of light cardio and 1 extra set of strength exercises for the second strength workout

Sources:

McGonigal, Kelly. Brief Bouts of Baby Steps. IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 8, Number 7 July 2011.

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