Today I’m going to answer another question I get asked a lot and that is: How often should I exercise?
It’s Friday which means it’s time for a new episode of my podcast! As I mentioned last week, after recording my Instagram Live last week answering questions I decided to use those questions for my December Podcasts because they make for quick, useful episodes since we all have a lot going on in December and we often don’t have time for 45-minute podcasts.
So, for those who like to listen instead of reading, hit play below and listen to this week’s podcast, or keep on reading!
How often should I exercise?
I’m going to start this off by saying that this question does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s really going to depend on your situation and goals, but there are a few guidelines that almost everyone should follow:
- The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends adults ages 18 to 64 get at least 2.5 hours of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week in spurts of 10 minutes or more.
- Activities that target your muscles and bones should also be done at least two days per week.
- Everyone should take at least one day off from structured exercise, for most people two rest days will serve them better than one.
Finding time for 2 1/2 hours of exercise a week might seem like a high number to some and a low number to others. This is where your circumstances really matter.
If you work in a job where you are on your feet a lot (like a nurse or mail carrier for example) or are doing heavy labour, you’re going to need less structured exercise than someone who works sitting at a desk 40 hours/week.
When starting out
It’s also important to note that some exercise is better than none. Sure the recommendation is 2 1/2 hours a week (or you can look at it as 30 minutes 5x/week), but if you are brand new to exercise, getting 2-30 minute walks in/week is going to be so much better for you than not walking at all. Honestly, that is probably better than going for the full 2 1/2 hours right out of the gate. It’s important to give yourself time to adapt and build up your stamina. The first month your ideal number might be 2, 30 minute workouts/week, but in month two maybe you’ll have built your stamina up to 3, 40 minute workouts.
It’s important to remember: it’s ok to be a beginner.
The seasoned athlete
Then we have the athletes–and make no mistake, if you exercise regularly, you are an athlete. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. You might find that 2 1/2 hours seems like too little–and to you, I say this:
2 1/2 hours is a minimum, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a maximum.
I see a lot of clients who have made exercise such an engrained part of their day that they find it hard to take a day off, find themselves doing multiple workouts/day “just because”, or feel they need to “earn” their food.
Think of your body as a car in a race. Every so many times around the track no matter how good your car is, it needs to take a pitstop to refuel, replenish fluids, change tires etc. We are no different. No matter how strong you are, you need to give your body a “day in the shop”, so to speak, each week to let it rest and repair.
Don’t wear out your engine!
The same goes for twice-a-day workouts. I realize this is a pot-calling-the-kettle-black scenario, coming from a fitness instructor who regularly teaches more than one class/day, but I’ve structured my schedule so that I am only teaching 1 class/day that requires me to really exercise. Some of the others I teach, but don’t really do myself, I’m there to instruct and coach, not to get my sweat on. Sure I’m still moving, but not at the same intensity as I would be if I were actually doing the class myself.
When you are doing multiple workouts/day, you are putting unnecessary stress on your body. Unless you are training for a specific event or sport, training more than once a day is not only unnecessary, it’s often counterproductive as it stresses your nervous system and often increases cortisol levels and gets you stuck in “fight or flight” making it so that your body is always on high alert.
What you need to remember about high-performance athletes is that they take their rest days seriously, tend to sleep more than the average person to aid in recovery, and fuel their bodies well. Most people who are working out that much on their own are doing it to look a certain way, so are not taking enough rest days, sleep less (because who has time to exercise multiple times/day and sleep?), and are eating in a deficit.
So what’s ideal?
Get ready for another non-answer because “ideal” is really going to depend on the person. I take one or two rest days/week (depending on whether I’m teaching a Saturday morning class or not), but I really only do 3 1/2-4 hours of intense exercise/week. The rest is what I would consider LISS (low-intensity steady-state), which is a great way to increase your overall activity level and calorie burn without stressing your body. Things like walking, hiking, cycling, kayaking, etc. all count as LISS. This means even on a rest day you can go for a nice walk or hike and still call it a rest day–as long as you aren’t out purposely trying to get your heart rate up.
That also means if you take a daily walk in the mornings or at lunch, you can still work out that day. I don’t consider those twice-a-day workouts. I consider running 5km in the morning and doing a strength training workout at night twice-a-day.
See what I mean? It’s sort of a non-answer.
Do you exercise to “earn” your food
If you are the sort of person who feels like they need to “earn” the food they eat by exercise I want to challenge you to do this. Instead of eating something then working out because you feel guilty, think of that food as fuel (which it is) and put it do good use. Instead of feeling like you need to exercise twice/day, focus on realllllllly nailing one workout and allowing your body the time it needs to recover before your next workout session.
Food is your friend, not something you need to “earn”. So if you exercise just to clear your conscience, I’m going to challenge you to take my free 5-Day Manage Your Mindset Challenge to start to breakdown those stories you’ve built in your head around food and exercise. They are things you should enjoy, not things you are being punished for/with.
Join my 4-Week Holiday Hustle
Are you realizing you’ve maybe fallen off the exercise wagon or need a little extra support to help you stay on track this holiday season? My 4-week Holiday Hustle at-home workout program starts on Monday, December 9th and I’d love to have you join us! It’s super reasonably priced and we’ve got a great group for you to join! Learn more or register here.
Now tell me, how many workouts are you aiming for next week?