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What’s the Minimum Amount of Exercise You Can Do?

Learn the minimum amount of exercise necessary to stay healthy and keep you at a low risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis.

By
Ben Greenfield
March 4, 2014
Episode #130

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Listener Nastassja recently wrote in and asked:

“What would you recommend as a minimum exercise routine for someone who isn't concerned about achieving "prime fitness" but is more worried about just staying healthy: being able to sprint after a bus, reducing the risks of disease and injury, keeping your immune system and mood in check, etc.  I generally stay active (I bike 20-40 minutes a day, 5 days a week during my commute, and take stairs instead of elevators as much as possible), but am wondering what else I "should" be doing.  Bonus points if the recommended plan doesn't involve a gym membership or expensive equipment.”

This is a great question! While I’ve certainly addressed how much exercise is “too much,” the concept of a minimal effective exercise dose is also important. So in this episode, you’ll learn the minimum amount of exercise necessary to stay healthy and keep you at a low risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis, or to just allow you to climb a flight of stairs without your heart pounding out your chest.

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What Is the Minimum Amount of Exercise Needed to Stay Fit?

Organizations like the American Council on Exercise recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week for folks trying to lose weight. But one relatively recent study actually compared 3 groups of individuals over a 13 week period. The groups consisted of people who exercised 30 minutes per day, people who exercised 60 minutes per day, and people who didn’t exercise at all.

The subjects who were exercising were allowed to choose their activity, such as running, cycling, etc., but had to work fairly hard (about 70% maximum capacity) for at least 3 exercise sessions in their allotted exercise time. The rest of the time they could exercise as hard or as easy as they chose.

So what were the results?

Compared to the sedentary control group, both the 30-minute and 60-minute group lost 4% body weight and 14% body fat and 3% body weight and 13% body fat, respectively.

Metabolism actually increased slightly more in the 60-minute group than in the 30-minute group, but the maximum oxygen capacity of the 30-minute group slightly exceeded that of the 60-minute group. Interestingly, the people who exercised for 30 minutes tended to have a greater daily calorie deficit than the ones who worked out the entire hour, indicating less of a propensity to calorically compensate for their exercise sessions.

Ultimately, the group that exercised twice as much didn’t see anywhere near twice the benefit!

What Is the Minimum Amount of Exercise Needed to Stay Healthy?

So we know that you can stay fit with as little as 30 minutes per day of exercise. But how much exercise do you need to stay healthy?

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