The Minimum Amount of Exercise Required

A question we frequently get is “What is the minimum amount of exercise required for me to get real benefit?”

Before we’d even begin to make a recommendation, we would advise trying to incorporate some activity into your everyday life as this has the potential to yield huge benefits and takes ‘no’ time. We talked about some possible ways to do this in one of our earlier posts.

But as people normally mean the minimum amount of exercise required which is done explicitly as a separate activity, here are some thoughts.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is widely known at this point, it involves bursts of all out activity with periods of resting, repeated a certain number of times. Martin Gibala, one of the foremost HIIT researchers, in his excellent book ‘The One Minute Workout’ (featured in our favorite fitness books), created a workout that takes only ten minutes total and involves just a total of one minute all out effort interspersed in the ten minutes. Performing this protocol three times a week for only six weeks resulted in significant cardio-respiratory improvement in a controlled study.

HIIT as it’s normally practiced targets cardiovascular health and as we believe strength development is very important for health there’s another protocol that can be used in tandem with it. The strength training equivalent of HIIT if you will, and it even sounds similar.

High Intensity Training (HIT) is a style of weight training which gained prominence in the 70’s primarily due to the work of Arthur Jones and champion bodybuilder Mike Mentzer. Their philosophy was that multiple sets of training were redundant and that all that was needed for a body part to grow was one all out gut-busting set and then seven to ten days rest. Many HIT experts design workouts where people would go from station to station doing different exercises with as little rest as possible and finish inside 20 minutes, sometimes significantly less. While we would ideally recommend resistance training twice a week at a minimum, many HIT advocates swear that seven to ten days rest, yields better improvements in strength and muscle. What’s more, many HIT authorities even contend that their strength workouts confer all the cardiovascular benefit a person requires and that dedicated cardiovascular workouts such as HIIT are unnecessary but we haven’t seen compelling evidence for this claim, so we wouldn’t advise dropping cardio completely.

So, combining both of these types of workouts, in theory, a total of 50 minutes a week would give significant benefit in both cardiovascular and muscular fitness.

An alternative to HIIT and HIT, which may give many of the benefits of both is Peripheral Heart Activity (PHA) which we described in an earlier post. Two to three twenty minute PHA workouts per week could definitely yield a lot of strength, muscle and cardiovascular benefits. The attraction of PHA is that the intensity is not as high as with HIIT and HIT and some people report feeling refreshed rather than devastated after exercise.

So, there you have it, somewhere between forty and sixty minutes per week is what various experts say is the minimum amount of exercise required to get tangible benefits.