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How Long Does it Take the Human Body to Adapt to a New Exercise?

author image Gary Benedict
Gary Benedict has been an exercise physiologist since 1985, counseling athletes, cardiac patients, fitness enthusiasts and children. He holds a Masters of Arts in physical education from the University of Maryland.
How Long Does it Take the Human Body to Adapt to a New Exercise?
A woman is punching with hand weights. Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

When you begin a new exercise routine, you are eager to reap the health benefits. The time it can take for your body to adapt to the exercise depends on a few factors. How you manipulate the variables of intensity, duration and frequency along with your present levels of fitness will affect the time it takes your body to adapt.

Intensity Levels

In general, the greater the intensity of your routine, the quicker your body will experience the physiological benefits. Cardiovascular exercises such as walking, running, swimming and cycling are most effective when you adjust the exercise intensity to within 60 percent to 85 percent of your maximal heart rate. The National Strength and Conditioning Association's guidelines note that you can enhance improvements in muscular strength and endurance with a series of six to 15 repetitions for up to three or more sets per exercise. The amount of weight you can safely lift for each exercise should correspond to 60 percent to 85 percent of your maximum lifting capacity for one repetition. Start with lower intensities and gradually increase the amounts as you progress. You should begin to notice physiological changes in two to three months.

Duration Levels

How long you perform an exercise each session also will affect the time frame for you to notice improvement. Conduct cardiovascular exercises 30 to 45 minutes per session to stimulate physiological change. Gains related to weight training depend on how many different body parts you are looking to challenge. Generally, you should target the major muscle groups of the legs, trunk, torso and arms with two exercises per body part. A well-rounded session should take you approximately 30 minutes to complete. Within two to three months of hard work, you will notice an effect on your health.

Frequency of Activity

The final training variable of frequency or the number of exercise sessions per week also will influence the rate your body adapts to exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends aerobic or cardiovascular exercise four to five times per week, while using two to three days for recovery periods. Respectable muscular strength gains from a weight training program can be realized with two to three sessions per week. Initially, you should start to notice positive physiological gains in three to six weeks of starting a program. Over the course of an additional six to seven weeks, you should see more adaptation.

Your Starting Point

Your initial level of fitness and how familiar you are with performing a new exercise routine will have an influence on your progress. If you have a low level of fitness, you will notice improvements in a relatively short time frame of three to six weeks. In contrast, the highly well-conditioned athlete may require years of training to achieve optimal levels of performance in their sport or activity. Your initial skill level at a new activity also will have an impact on the duration of adaptation. If you need to learn a new set of motor skills for your exercise, this will lengthen the time it takes to master it and see results, such as learning new swimming strokes for a workout in the pool.

Time to Adapt

Overall, you should start to notice positive signs of adaptation within the first three to six weeks of a new exercise regimen, with additional physiological gains after three to six months of training. Always consult with your physician before starting a new exercise regimen.

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