Recommended Exercise Per Week

We all know we should exercise, but what comes next? Do you know how much, what to do, and how to get started? Here is what you should know so you can get motivated and get moving.


Exercise Is Medicine

Why exercise? There are so many reasons related to weight control, health, and wellbeing. Exercise can help with weight loss, since it burns calories and increases metabolism. It is even more closely tied to weight maintenance, or prevention of weight gain or regain, likely because it helps with discipline and motivation.

Another reason to exercise is for its health effects. Lark Diabetes Prevention Program is an example of a health program that promotes exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) goes so far as to promote Exercise as Medicine [1] through publicization, research, and education. Physical activity at any weight can lead to the following benefits, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. [2]

  • Increased insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar, and reduced risk for diabetes.

  • Lower blood pressure and reduced risk for hypertension.

  • Reduced risk for stroke, cardiovascular disease, depression, and certain cancers.

  • Improved cognition and reduced risk for dementia.

  • Reduced risk for osteoporosis.

  • Better function with conditions such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

The benefits of exercise in chronic disease are important, but exercise also offers more instantly tangible and gratifying rewards. People who exercise can feel less anxious, more confident, and energized. You can expect to fall asleep faster and sleep better, be more alert during the day, and feel happier in general. 

 From fitness to wellness to disease management, the amounts and types of recommended exercise per week are consistent for most people. In general, the following guidelines are appropriate for most people who are healthy or who are trying to prevent or manage diabetes or hypertension and have no interfering conditions. If you are unsure, just ask your doctor before getting started.


 Moderate-Intensity Physical Activity - Aerobic (“Cardio”) Activity

Aerobic exercise is what often comes to mind first when we think of exercise. Examples include walking and running, cycling, playing basketball or tennis, skiing, rowing, dancing, and weeding. Aerobic activity gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe faster, but it is not so intense that you have to stop after a few minutes. Regular aerobic activity offers most of the benefits that you think of with exercise, including weight control, better health, and improved mood and concentration.

The recommendation from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is for healthy adults to achieve at least 150 to 300 minutes per week (30 to 60 minutes 5 days a week) of moderate-intensity physical activity (MIPA) [3]. More can lead to additional benefits. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) [4] and American Heart Association (AHA) [5] agree with these recommendations for otherwise-healthy individuals with high blood glucose and blood pressure, respectively.

Moderate-Intensity Physical Activity (MIPA)

Most exercise programs rely on MIPA, so here are the basics.

What are some examples of MIPA? Brisk walking, cycling, water aerobics, low-impact aerobics, dancing, gardening, playing tennis, using an elliptical trainer, and hiking.

How can you recognize MIPA? You are doing MIPA if you can talk but not sing. Another test is if you are at a 5 or 6 on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is sitting and 10 is greatest possible effort.

Strength Training

Strength training is not just for body builders, and you do not need to avoid it for fear that you will “bulk up.” You can improve strength, tone up, and slim down without looking like a bodybuilder if you do not want to.

Strength training increases your metabolism throughout the day, lowers injury risk, and has many of the health benefits, such as improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood pressure, as aerobic activity. It can also help in your daily life when you need to carry heavy objects.

You can use weights such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and weight machines. Cables, resistance bands, weighted balls, and body weight can give you the workout you need, too.

When strength training, components include the frequency (how often you perform the activities), intensity (how heavy the weight you use is), and sets and repetitions (how many times you lift).

  • Frequency: aim to work each of your major muscle groups at least twice per week. You can work all of your muscle groups in a single day, or do a few muscle groups on one day and other groups on another.

  • Intensity: the weight should be enough to get your muscles tired by the end, but light enough that you can maintain proper form and avoid injury.

  • For strength-building and bone health benefits, aim to do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for a given exercise. That means you lift the weight 8 to 12 times (“repetitions”) to complete 1 “set,” rest, do another set of 8 to 12 repetitions, rest, and perform your third set of 8 to 12 “reps.”

These are the major muscle groups and examples of exercises you can do.

Shoulders: shoulder raises, overhead presse
Abs/core: planks, crunches, side bends
Back: rows, pull-ups, lat pull-downs
Biceps: bicep curls, hammer curls
Glutes and hips: deadlifts
Chest: push-ups, chest flies, bench press
Triceps: triceps extension, bench dips
Calves: calf raises, single leg squats
Thighs (quads and hamstrings): squats, lunges, leg press, hamstring curls

Other Types of Activities

Other types of activities include flexibility, balance, and alternative activities. These activities can lower injury risk and speed recovery. They can also provide mental benefits to make exercise more enjoyable so that you stay interested and motivated.

Flexibility. Stretching can increase flexibility and range of motion, and lower injury risk. Stretch gently after workouts when your muscles are warm. Yoga can also increase flexibility.

Balance. Better balance can lower your risk of falls. You can practice using a wobble board and by standing on one foot, walking heel-to-toe on a line, and walking backwards. Tai chi and yoga can also improve balance.


Getting Started and Making It a Habit

The benefits of exercise are greatest when you make exercise a habit, but how do you get started? First, get your doctor’s approval if you are an older adult or have any health conditions. Then, work up to recommendations gradually. Start with as little as a few minutes if that is right for you.

The easier you make exercise, the easier it will be to make it a habit. These are some tips.

  • Schedule your workouts in your calendar so you are sure to set aside enough time.

  • Get proper shoes, clothes, and any necessary equipment, and set them out the night before so they are ready when you need them the next day.

  • Accommodate any health conditions, such as checking blood sugar before and after your workout and having fast-acting high-carb snacks handy in case of hypoglycemia if you have diabetes.

One of the most important strategies for long-term fitness is to find something you love. Exercise may be medicine, but it is the kind with sugar in it. There is an activity out there for everyone; it may just take a little digging to discover the one(s) for you (and yes, digging counts towards your recommendations!). You might consider the following.

  • Alone, with a friend, or in a group class.

  • Indoors or outdoors.

  • Competitive or not.


Getting Help

Friends, family, a personal trainer, and fitness instructors can help you along the way. A personal health coach can also help. Lark is a fully-automated program that is available to users 24/7. You can chat with your coach anytime, set and work towards exercise and diet goals, and get customized feedback and coaching. With motivation, reminders, and tracking features, Lark DPP and other Lark programs can help you hit exercise recommendations and is Fully CDC Recognized.



  1.  Exercise is Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine.

  2.  2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.

  3.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.

  4.  American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes – 2019. Diabetes Care 2019 Jan; 42(Supplement 1): S1-S2.

  5.  2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol 2018;71:e127-e248

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health