Getting Enough Exercise

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The benefits of getting regular exercise are wide-ranging and include prevention and treatment of obesity.

What Counts as Exercise?

When the medical and healthcare community talks about exercise, we generally mean any physical activity. This could be walking up the stairs, doing the dishes, doing general housework, doing yard work, general gardening, or playing with your children or your pets. This also refers to the different forms of organized physical activity, such as team sports, running, yoga, martial arts, and even weight lifting.

There are different classifications for exercise, based on whether it is aerobic (such as swimming and jogging) or anaerobic (such as weight lifting). Exercise has also been classified according to whether or not it is considered to be interval or endurance training. Finally, there are different levels, or intensity, of physical activity; these are generally considered to include light, moderate, and vigorous.

How Much Exercise Should You Get?

The simple answer to this is to move as much as possible every day—without going to the point of injury, of course! Studies have shown that sitting for longer than 4 hours on a daily basis is actually worse for the cardiovascular system than smoking cigarettes.

Most national and international guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This can translate into 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times per week, for instance.

And research has borne out the health benefits of a daily 30-minute walk: in the Nurses’ Health Study, for instance, those who walked briskly or otherwise achieved moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes every day had a low risk of sudden cardiac death during 26 years of follow-up.

What counts as moderate-intensity exercise?

Physical activities such as general gardening, brisk walking, ballroom dancing, and the equivalent fall into the category of moderate-intensity exercise.

Additionally, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), obtaining at least 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise weekly can meet the minimum amount of recommended exercise. Vigorous-intensity exercise includes physical activities such as hiking uphill, bicycling at or above ten miles per hour, fast swimming, running, traditional aerobics, and heavy shoveling or ditch digging, among others.

The HHS guidelines note that additional health benefits can be obtained by increasing the amount of moderate-intensity physical activity to at least five hours per week, or increasing vigorous-intensity exercise to at least 2 1/2 hours per week.

These guidelines also recommend engaging in muscle-strengthening exercise at least two days per week. This is important for building and maintaining strong bones, for overall fitness, and for increasing lean muscle mass—which also helps in combating obesity.

The guidelines also note that “any amount of physical activity is better than doing nothing … even exercising in 10-minute increments.” And this gets to the above point that making a goal to stay in motion as much as possible throughout the day is key to optimal health and wellness over the long term.


Doucet E, King N, Levine JA, Ross R. Update on exercise and weight control. J Obes 2011; 2011:358205. Epub 2011 Dec 18.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed online at on June 12, 2014.

Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Rexrode KM, Spiegelman D, et al. Adherence to a low-risk, healthy lifestyle and risk of sudden cardiac death among women. JAMA 2011; 306:62-69.

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