How Much Exercise Is Enough?

We often hear from our alums that they don’t know if they’re getting enough exercise. After all, most of us don’t have four to five hours each day to exercise like we do on a typical day here at Green Mountain. Our most important advice in this regard is to base your goals on where you are right now.

Set Realistic Exercise Goals

  • No matter what the official recommendations are, be realistic about what you can achieve.
  • Set goals based on what you can consistently do. Once you achieve those goals, set new ones that bump up your exercise if that’s needed.

It’s sometimes helpful to know what the official recommendations are, however. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) advises that each week we get:

  • 30-minutes of cardiovascular exercise five days a week. That means 30-minutes within your target heart rate (THR) zone.
  • 2 days of full-body strength training
  • Optional: up to 20 minutes of a more vigorous cardiovascular exercise 3 days a week

Break Up Your Cardio Into Smaller Sessions

If that seems like a lot of time each week, remember you can break your cardio up into smaller sessions each day.

  • Try walking your dogs in the morning for 10 minutes, taking a refreshing 20-minute walk at lunch, or a 10-minute walk at lunch and another 10-minute session at break time.
  • For full benefit, split cardio sessions into no less than 10 minutes within THR.

Try Strength Training While Watching TV

To fit in strength training, consider doing it while watching TV at night. When it comes to figuring out what is enough for you, keep in mind the guidelines, but also pay very close attention to your body. Rest and take proper care of anything besides a general ache or muscle soreness.

While most people worry about fitting in enough exercise, over-exercising can have the same effect on the body as not exercising at all. Using such principles the FITM Principle (see below), you can prevent overexertion (or not doing enough).

How Hard Should I Be Exercising?

The Karvonen Formula is a great tool to help answer that question. It helps you estimate your target heart rate zone for cardiovascular activity. To get the most payback from your cardio workouts, work within that range.

  • If you’re under the range, you won’t get the heart-health benefits.
  • If you exercise at a pace that pushes your heart rate above the zone, you can become prone to overexertion or begin to hate your workout and quit altogether. Overexertion increases the risk of joint/muscle injury because of overuse. Other signs of overexertion include extreme fatigue, mood swings, and abnormal change in appetite. Keep in mind that as you remain active, you want to re-check your THR zone every month because it changes as you become more fit.
  • For most people beginning an exercise program, it’s difficult to tell when you’re at THR. A heart rate monitor can help you judge. It may also help put you at ease if you worry you may be working too hard. Or if you feel like you haven’t done enough exercise.

When Should I Start Increasing Exercise?

Sometimes, the reality of life makes it difficult to achieve all of the ACSM guidelines each week. At other times, we may find we’re plateauing, making it difficult to achieve THR with our current routine. To increase our fitness level, we only need to increase one of the areas of the FITM principle to see improvement.

The FITM Principle helps keep exercise effective and fun. It stands for:


Change the frequency of your workout by changing the number of days a week you exercise.


Bump up intensity with speed, hills or even interval training (review this concept in the Fitness section of your Green Mountain binder).


Increase the amount of time you’re in your THR as you become more physically fit.


The mode of exercise you choose helps keep the spark and excitement alive. Change the route you walk often. Do something else besides walking, such as a Zumba class or trying out a new piece of gym equipment.

By rotating through the FITM principle, you stay actively engaged in exercise.

Avoid An “All Or Nothing” Approach To Keep It Going

When trying to pull this all together, avoid an “all or nothing” approach. Think honestly about the time you have to exercise. If it’s two days a week, that’s a start. It will help you more to plan for two days and succeed, rather than planning for five days and fail. When we aim for perfection, we often give up when perfection doesn’t happen. Use the ACSM guidelines as a goal over time.

Once you’re in a rhythm of regular movement, your body might just tell you it wants more!

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