Just basically tell me how much to exercise, k?
August 6, 2012 10:23 AM   Subscribe

How much exercise is enough or ideal or normal... or?

From various internet sources, I've read that the optimum level to exercise at is anything from 10 minutes to an hour - sometimes everyday, sometimes three times a week, sometimes every 2nd day, sometimes five days and sometimes rest days are an absolute must.

Also, nobody I know exercises. I am an aberration in my social group in that I've gotten into exercise by my own motivation and actually enjoy it. So, this is why I'm turning to the hive-mind.

I'm currently on Week 5 of Couch-To-5k (the one with 8 minute runs) and this is the fittest I've ever been. I am on a month's sabbatical from my career, so I get to go to the gym everyday. So far, so good, but I'm thinking to when I finally complete the C25K program and need to get in the rhythm of fitness from there onwards.

Is running 5k a day complete overkill, not enough exercise or just the right amount? Maybe only three times a week would be better? Once a week? I honestly have no clue, but I've heard of someone running 10k a day to stay fit and eat what they like. I know I need to figure out what works for me and what I will stick at, but I need some kind of yardstick to measure exercise by. 30mins running everyday will surely do me good, is that enough though for everyday?

My fitness goals are just to be fit and healthy, not necessary thin or skinny or ripped.
posted by Chorus to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Official guidelines on this kind of thing are all over the place, but I think most professionals would agree that running a 5k every day is a decent amount of exercise.

I personally try to do something nearly every day, but a couple of days a week are just walking. I was really enthusiastic about running, too, when I first picked it up via Couch to 5k, but I ended up hurting myself by running too many miles a week. Now I try to always take a day between runs. However, a lot of people are able to run every day for years with no problem, so this really is mostly about what you want to do and what works for you personally. If you stay committed to some sort of regular exercise for a long-ish period of time, you'll probably start to instinctively figure out what feels best for your body and mind.
posted by something something at 10:30 AM on August 6, 2012

"Fit" is not a goal. Fit means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Same goes for healthy. If you can run a 5k, but can't do a pullup, I wouldn't call you fit.

Are you fine with having a crappy vertical jump and relatively low strength? A 5k daily as your only work could be fine.

One thing you can do is check your heart rate every day at the same interval after you wake up. If that rate spikes, you're doing too much. Won't help you on identifying too little, though.

In short, I think you need to better define what you're looking for.
posted by bfranklin at 10:34 AM on August 6, 2012

There is no one "optimal" amount of exercise. You just have to do what works for you. I would recommend variety to keep things interesting as well as a way to give your body time to recover.
posted by mmascolino at 10:34 AM on August 6, 2012

3-4x a week, at least 30 minutes of exercise each time.
posted by superfille at 10:37 AM on August 6, 2012

Exercising every day is not the same as running every day. Getting to a point where you're running every day could and should take years.

I've been running about 2.5 years, and am just starting to run 6 days a week.

Use your off days to do yoga, bike, and REST.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:37 AM on August 6, 2012

You're definitely hitting a minimal level. After you hit a minimal level then it's a matter of how much you want to do. If you're enjoying yourself and not injured, go wild.
posted by Anonymous at 10:38 AM on August 6, 2012

According to "The Weight of the Nation" on HBO, the minimum exercise would be 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:42 AM on August 6, 2012

Running 5K every day might be too much or it might not. It really depends on your fitness level. I'd probably just do 3-4 days a week and do weights or something on days that you aren't running.

Do pay attention to your body. You might be tempted to push yourself on your runs, but resist the temptation as much as possible. Do that too often and you'll injure yourself and that completely sucks and is a great way to give back all the progress you've made. Perhaps every couple of weeks you can do a "hard run", but most of the time you should be running at an easy, comfortable pace.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:44 AM on August 6, 2012

First, you are absolutely right that "I know I need to figure out what works for me and what I will stick at." Actually running one a week is better than just thinking about running every day. (I'm very good at thinking about running, but it doesn't seem to do me much good.)

Second, there are diminishing returns to exercise. Running four times a week will make you healthier than twice a week, but the difference between 0 and 2 is far greater than the difference between 2 and 4. There is no exact target.

Third, running is a great exercise, but if you are concerned about general health, try to mix in weight training. (Though again, actually running is better than thinking about weight training.)

Fourth, very few of us will ever get the point of "too much exercise" for a sustained period, although many of us will overdo it by ramping up too quickly. Here's a good discussion of the issue.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:48 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I started the C25K last summer and have done it a couple more times in the meantime for speed. Which isn't to say I'm fast. But I run 3 times a week and like to go biking and walk the dog.

But I hadn't ever run, really, regularly until last year. Ever. So to me, roomthreeseventeen's advice of building slowly makes a lot of sense. In June of this year, I tried to continue my 3x weekly run schedule plus bike-commuting 5 miles each way 4 days a week and I got completely wiped out. Most of July was recovering, feeling tired and sleepy, and just trying to keep up my 3x a week run with one day of bike-commuting a week.

So, my advice to you is to build slowly. I was there at Week 5 of Couch to 5K and I remember that feeling of "I'M DOING AWESOME. I'M AN ATHLETE!" but don't over-do it. Slow and steady. Listen to your body and take breaks as necessary. :)

Looking at Ghostride The Whip's link, going 1 hour and 15 minutes a week of running is about 3 5ks a week and then include weight training. That sounds pretty good to me as a work-out schedule. :)
posted by jillithd at 10:54 AM on August 6, 2012

You might find The First 20 Minutes a good source. Gretchen Reynolds goes through a lot of exercise research and breaks it down for lay people.

There isn't really a one-size-fits-all prescription. Some is better that none. How much more kind of depends on you. Couch to 5K is a great start. I'd encourage you to try a variety of things, because finding something that you love to do will make you more likely to continue. Doing only one thing can make you more vulnerable to injury, so mix it up.
posted by ambrosia at 11:00 AM on August 6, 2012

Broadly speaking there are two clear principles that govern what is "enough" exercise from a scientific / health perspective. They are:

1. Every bit of exercise helps, even very short bursts.
2. More is almost always "better"

Unless you are an elite athlete you are very unlikely to "overtrain". Large scale studies like the National Runners Health Study show that for nearly everyone the more exercise you do, and the harder you do it - the more health benefits you get.

Broadly speaking 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week cuts your risk of dying (from all health causes) in half. However, going beyond these kind of standard guidelines has been consistently shown to have significant health benefits across a wide range of conditions - from heart attack risk to cataracts.

That said - obviously you can't just go out and start running for 4 hours a day every day and magically become superman, and as individuals we have time and practical limits on how long we can spend exercising and you need to build slowly. The point is that when integrated within a good, balanced training program, continuing to push yourself will almost always bring rewards.

Second, Rest is important. One of my favourite fitocracy runners fellrnr likes to say that Exercise does not make you fit, it's the rest that follows exercise that makes you fit. Especially if you enjoy running, as you get more active it is important to include "rest" or "cross training" to allow your body to recover - though this is really for much later and not something you need to worry to much about at C25K level

(Source: Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights by Alex Hutchinson - an excellent exercise book by a science journalist that tries to offer "an up-to-date evidence based guide to common fitness questions based on the best available scientific evidence" - pretty rare in the field of exercise which is full of psuedoscience and half-truths - it is highly recommended)
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 11:02 AM on August 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Do you enjoy running 5k every day? Then run 5k a day, and that's enough, and not too much.

I don't get the impression that you're asking "What is the bare minimum effort I can put into exercising," which is really what the CDC and other such organizations are trying to tell you.

The best thing you can do to keep improving and keep your motivation and enjoyment up is to maintain at least one goal. Right now, it's to be able to run a 5k. What comes next? Try weight lifting. No, you won't get "buff" or "muscular" doing it; unless you're doing olympic powerlifting, as a woman you are not going to "muscle up." But seriously, weight lifting is probably the best thing you can do for your body. Your first goal could be to deadlift your body weight, or 3/4 your body weight depending on where you find your starting point to be.

Hate the idea of touching a barbell? Create another cardio goal. Train for a 10k. Start swimming or cycling and train for a triathlon.

The key is to be always working toward something. So many people stop exercising entirely once they feel all they have to do is "maintain." Maintaining, in exercise, is a poisonous word. It implies an end of progress. So once you've reached your goal, pick another one. Once you've chosen that goal, put in the amount of effort necessary to reach it quickly, and then choose another. Repeat infinitely. Remain healthy infinitely.
posted by Urban Winter at 11:02 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

As long as you're not injuring yourself or neglecting other duties, I doubt you'll be exercising "too much". Exercise is good for you and the vast majority of Americans never get nearly enough, so read the guidelines as minimums instead of limits.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:09 AM on August 6, 2012

Years ago I recall a phrase in a running magazine jump out at me: If you are running more than 15 miles a week it probably isn't for health reasons any longer.

This doesn't mean that mile #16 in a week isn't healthy, but your motivations are different beyond a certain point. Across sports you can pretty well define that around the 5 or 6 hour point. The returns on fitness to exercise more than 5 hours a week are vanishingly small, but the psychological satisfaction is high.

This is actually a good place to be because you are mentally tough enough to exercise beyond what you need. It is easy to cross the line into chronic fatigue or injury so some restraint is prudent but personally I love being in the zone where I know it is all extra credit and I'm exercising just because I like it.
posted by dgran at 11:44 AM on August 6, 2012

I'm not at my main computer at the moment, so I don't have access to the research papers, but there was a recent Danish study that examined jogging and mortality longitudinally. The conclusions were quite surprising, even to someone like me, who believes that more is not always better wrt. exercise.

The short of it, is that the mortality impact is U shaped. Sedentary is of course worst, but for the exercising cohort, the exercise benefits start declining fairly rapidly - how rapidly is the surprising part. A careful breakdown and analysis of the results showed that optimum mortality was obtained by jogging between 15 - 20 miles a week, and going over 20 miles started a very pronounced increase in mortality. The second very surprising thing was the intensity. Maximum benefits were with moderate intensity - jogging faster than 8 minutes per mile was again associated with an increase in mortality. The number of sessions per week were optimal at 3.

This is highly surprising, because earlier studies found benefits with increased time and intensity of exercise, although beyond a certain point, the increase in time+intensity only gave very small incremental gains in health outcomes. Which is very different from an actual U shape.

Of course, this caused a great deal of consternation, and the study came under a lot of scrutiny - but it was well designed. The results cannot easily be ignored.

That said, you are a sample of one. What is best for you is going to be specific to you, your needs, your physiology, your response to exercise, your goals.

If your goal is athletic achievement, or a level of fitness that allows you to engage in intense sports or activities, you will need to increase your exercise beyond levels that *perhaps* might be optimal for mortality/morbidity. It's about quality of life and happiness versus longevity - most of the time the two are parallel, but not always - maybe you have an immoderate love of cake, or maybe of extreme sports.

If you simply want to exercise for the health benefits, then jogging at a moderate pace for a total of 20 miles a week spread over 4 sessions would seem optimal - and mix it up a bit, say, 4 miles + 4 miles + 6 miles + 6 miles. For the days you are not jogging, I'd throw in a couple of days of weight training. Leave one day to rest completely - which does NOT mean sitting all day, as excessive time spent sitting is independently associated with increased mortality/morbidity (independently of exercise) - walk around; don't sit longer than 30 minutes at a stretch, get up and walk around a bit.
posted by VikingSword at 1:40 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

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