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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,
Episode #130

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.;

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?

Another study tracked over 400,000 adults for 8 years, surveying them about physical activity levels and their health. Participants indicated what types of exercise they did and how many minutes per week they did each exercise, and then the researchers calculated a special number called a “hazard ratio” (HR) over the 8-year period of each person’s participation in the study.

A HR of 1 is assigned to a completely inactive group – reporting less than an hour a week of exercise and any HR lower than 1 means you have an increased chance of avoiding death.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that low-volume, moderate exercisers, who exercised just 75 minutes per week (that’s about 15 minutes a day!), had significantly better HRs than inactive people, and this result held up even after controlling for a number of other factors, like age, sex, smoking, drinking, and other health issues. A change in HR like this means that for a typical 30-year-old, as little as 15 minutes of exercise a day leads to an increase of 2.5 to 3 years in life-expectancy! The study also showed that the health benefits of exercise significantly tapered off after anything more than 90 minutes of exercise per day.

Summary

So it turns out that you can exercise as little as 15 minutes a day to stay healthy, as little as 30 minutes a day to stay fit and lean, and that you don’t get any extra benefit once you exceed 90 minutes per day!

If you have questions about the minimum amount of exercise necessary to stay healthy, then post them in the comments section of the Get-Fit Guy web site or join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Runner image from Shutterstock

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