How Many Times Should I Exercise Per Week?

Young woman stretching on an exercise mat
The number of times you should exercise per week depends on the intensity of your workouts. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

With so much information in the media and new exercise fads released on a daily basis, it can be hard to figure out how many times you really need to exercise per week. However, there are specific guidelines that you can use as a starting point. It also depends on your personal fitness goals. For example, a bodybuilder may not want to do as much cardio as a track athlete because he may lose muscle mass.

Basic Guidelines

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week. This may sound like a lot if you are new to working out, but you can easily break this requirement into multiple short sessions. You can do five days a week of 30-minute sessions or even 10 short 15-minute sessions a week if that is easier for you to do.

Know Your Intensity

Moderate-intensity exercise will cause your heart rate to pick up and have you breathing heavier. The "talk test" is one way to determine what your level of workout intensity is. When you are working out at a moderate intensity, you should be able to carry on a conversation but be unable to sing a song. If you are unable to carry on a conversation, you are working out at a vigorous intensity. Choose your favorite cardiovascular activity such as brisk walking, water aerobics, jumping rope, kickboxing, dance fitness classes or cycling. If you don't have a favorite, try a group exercise class at your local gym or rent a few exercise DVDs from your local library until you find something you like.

Add Resistance

In addition to 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week, the CDC recommends adults incorporate a minimum of two days of resistance training into their weekly routine. Resistance training is important for maintaining muscle tone and function, something we all lose with age if we don't maintain it. If you are a beginner, start with two 30-minute resistance-training sessions a week. Alternate these with your cardio days. Take at least one rest day a week from both cardio and resistance training to allow your muscles to recover.

Keep It Simple

Body-weight exercises are an easy, cheap and convenient way to incorporate resistance training into your schedule. Most body-weight exercises work multiple muscle groups at once, which gives you more calorie-burning, muscle-building bang for your buck. To get a full-body resistance workout, do pushups, chin-ups, planks, triceps dips, wall sits, squats, abdominal crunches, side planks, stepups and lunges. When you are ready to mix things up a little, add in some dumbbells, barbells or exercise machines.

Know Your Goals

The CDC guidelines are for adults who want to stay fit and prevent excess weight gain or muscle loss. If your goal is to lose weight, you need to either increase the intensity of your cardio or do 250 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio each week. Keep in mind that 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio is equivalent to 300 minutes of moderately intense cardio. So if you are short on time, make your cardio the higher impact variety. Some examples of vigorous-intensity cardio are jogging, running, swimming laps and playing basketball. If you are new to exercise, don't just jump right in to vigorous-intensity exercise, though. Start slowly by swimming a few short laps in the pool or walking briskly before you start your cardio routine. Use the talk test to measure your intensity, and slowly step up your intensity over time. Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.

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