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How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?

Even a little exercise may bring you big health benefits.

Exercise: How Much Is the Bare Minimum?

While incorporating more exercise into our lives is a worthwhile goal, for many of us, just getting up off the couch is a big step toward better health.

So how much exercise do you really need? Most of the studies show that 5 minutes of continuous movement repeated during the day is about the bare minimum to have any effect, and fitness experts believe 10 minutes is more realistic.

"If 3 minutes is all you can do, if 2 minutes is all you can do, it's all better than nothing -- but you should be working up to a goal of at least 5 continuous minutes, and 10 is even better," says Shina.

It's important to make the most of those few minutes, she says. "You should come away from your 2 minutes or your 5 minutes or your 10 minutes of exercise feeling as if you have accomplished something," she says. "There is a certain amount of pushing your body that has to take place, even if it's just for 5 minutes."

And how often do you need to do these 5- to 10-minute bursts of activity?

According to the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Sports Medicine, good health really comes with 30 minutes of activity, at least 3-5 times a week. If you do the math, that means you'll need to fit in six daily sessions of 5 minutes apiece, or three daily bouts of 10 minutes apiece.

"It takes about 5-7 minutes to begin to feel the endorphin rush that comes from exercise, so most people find the 10-minute workout three times a day may actually be more pleasurable than the 5 minutes six times a day," says Shina.

What Types of Exercise Work Best?

Experts say that while almost any fitness activity you enjoy doing is good, if you want to get the most from your 10 minutes of training, choose activities that move several large muscle groups at once.

"Using exercises that engage more than one body part at a time will guarantee getting the biggest bang for the exercise buck," says Shina.

Her clients' favorites include simple movements, such as standing up super-straight, with shoulders rolled back, abdominals tight, and chin up. "The trick is to set a timer for 5 minutes and hold that posture," says Shina.

Shina says your quickie fitness routines can include functional movements such as repeatedly standing up and sitting down in a chair, bending down and picking objects up off the floor, or putting something on a high shelf, taking it down, and putting it back up again, until your five minutes are up. (Think cleaning your closet every day for 5 minutes!)

"You can actually do 60 seconds on each of these movements, and then repeat them -- I call it '60-second circuits' -- and it works great because you're only doing it for a minute, and everybody can do something for just a minute," says Shina.

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