Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(12):2097-2098

How much exercise do I need?

Talk to your doctor about how much exercise is right for you. A good goal for many people is to work up to exercising four to six times a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Remember, though, that any amount of exercise is better than none.

How do I get started?

Start by talking with your doctor. This is especially important if you haven’t been active, if you have any health problems, or if you are pregnant or elderly.

Start out slowly. Begin with 10 minutes of light exercise or a brisk walk every day, and gradually increase how hard you exercise and for how long.

Sneak exercise into your day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a walk during your coffee or lunch break. Walk all or part of the way to work. Do housework at a fast pace. Rake leaves or do other yard work.

How do I stick with it?

Here are some tips that will help you start and stick with an exercise program:

  • Choose an activity you like to do.

  • Get a partner. Exercising with someone else can make it more fun.

  • Vary your routine. You may be less likely to get bored or injured if you change your routine. Walk one day. Bicycle the next. Consider activities like dancing and racquet sports, and even chores like chopping wood.

  • Choose a comfortable time of day. Don’t work out too soon after eating or when it’s too hot or cold outside. Wait until later in the day if your joints are too stiff in the morning.

  • Don’t get discouraged. It can take weeks or months before you notice some of the changes from exercise.

  • Forget “no pain, no gain.” It’s normal to be a little sore after you first start exercising, but stop if you feel pain.

  • Make exercise fun. Read, listen to music, or watch TV while riding a stationary bicycle, for example. Find fun things to do, like taking a walk through the zoo. Go dancing. Learn how to play tennis.

Making Exercise a Habit

  • Stick to exercising at a regular time of day.

  • Sign a contract committing yourself to exercise.

  • Put “exercise appointments” on your calendar.

  • Keep a daily log or diary of your activities.

  • Check your progress. Can you walk a certain distance faster now than when you began? Is your heart rate slower?

  • Ask your doctor to write a prescription for your exercise program, such as what type of exercise to do, how often to exercise, and for how long.

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