The easy answer to “How much exercise should I get?”

People ask me this a lot. “I know I’m supposed to exercise, but… how much?” And what they’re really asking is “How little can I get away with?” Here is the simplest possible answer:

Get SOME exercise. Any is better than none. Exercise is good for you, the way vegetables and sleep are good for you. It’s possible to

The US government has some guidelines you might find useful, but let me make it simpler than that:

Twenty minutes to an hour a day, 5 or 6 days a week.

If you get twenty minutes to an hour of exercise each day, 5 or 6 days a week, you’ll feel better, look better, sleep better, and think better. Done.

What should you do during this time? Do stuff that uses the largest muscles in your body – your legs, butt, and abdomen – and uses them fairly CONTINUOUSLY. Walking, jogging, cycling, climbing, squats and lunges and leg presses are all awesome.

How hard should you work? You can measure your effort with your breathing: you should be able to talk in broken sentences, and you shouldn’t be able to sing. If you can sing, you’re going pretty gently. If you can’t string two words together, you’re going very, very hard indeed and should maybe slow down some.

Me, I use “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” to gauge my effort. While I’m running with my dog, I say to my self, “Whose woods these are (pant) I think I know (pant). His house is in (pant) the village though (pant pant).”

The most general possible rule of thumb is that the harder you are working, the less time you have to spend. Walk for an hour, jog for half an hour. Take a gentle bike ride around town for an hour, take a spin class for half an hour. See?

And take a day off each week. Your body needs time to repair and strengthen in response to the challenges you give it. The harder you work out, the more you need the rest.

Now, none of this addresses questions about training for a particular sport or event, coping with illness or injury, beginning a fitness routine when you’re at a very low level of fitness to start with, or how to increase fitness when you’re already pretty fit. Nor does it address any of the reasons why you should or should not exercise.

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