If a stroll from the parking lot into work or the grocery store is the main activity you’re getting, you’re likely not active enough. With the busy holiday season and colder weather, it can be hard to up your exercise game. However, being active and eating well are some of the best ways to stay healthy as you head into the new year.

Read on for why regular exercise is so helpful, plus simple tips to add more movement into your day.

Why exercise?

Regular exercise is one of the foundations of a healthy lifestyle. It helps control body weight and protects against a variety of diseases. Exercise also helps lower blood pressure and improve overall health.

By boosting circulation, exercise may even help improve your body’s immune system. So, moving more may help your natural ability to fight off illness.

Other benefits of regular exercise may include:1

  • Greater focus and mental clarity
  • Stress reduction
  • Reduced feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced risk of falls and slower loss of bone density as you age
  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers

What kind of exercise should I do, and how much?

So exactly how much movement is needed to reap these benefits? Here are some recommendations for healthy adults. Before you start any exercise routine, always talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe.

Aerobic or “cardio” activities

“Cardio” activities get your body moving and your heart pumping, and strengthens your cardiovascular system.

How often?

Aim to do these types of activities most days of the week.2

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise
  • Or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise
  • Or a combination of both

150 minutes may sound like a lot. When you break it down over a week, though, it could look like 30 minutes of walking for five days of the week.

What counts as aerobic activity?

Examples of moderate aerobic activities include:3

  • Brisk walking
  • Dancing
  • Water aerobics
  • Active yoga

While vigorous aerobic exercises include:3

  • Running
  • Swimming laps
  • Climbing the stairs
  • Shoveling your driveway with a shovel instead of a snowblower

Strength exercises

It’s also important to perform strength exercises for all major muscle groups—ideally at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise. Use a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12-15 repetitions.

Strength training can be done with:

  • Weight machines
  • Using your own body weight (pushups and squats, for example)
  • Resistance bands
  • Resistance paddles in the water (or a rowing machine)

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“But what if I’m not an ‘exercise person’?”

All this training sounds well and good, but if you’re not as active as you would like to be, it can be daunting. The key is committing to movement and increasing it over time. Start with a short-range plan, such as 20-30 minutes three to four days per week. A reasonable longer-term goal is to aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

Make movement part of your daily routine as much as you can by starting with something you enjoy, like:

  • Dancing
  • Playing a sport
  • Listening to podcasts on a stationary bike
  • Walking in place while you’re watching your favorite show

You don’t have to run marathons or bulk up like a bodybuilder to reap the benefits of exercise. Think creatively about what type of exercise or environment you enjoy most.

More simple ways you can add activity into your day include:

  • Stand up to take phone calls
  • Stretch at your desk
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Use your lunch break to take a brisk walk
  • If it’s warm enough outside, ride your bike to work
  • Walk to your coworkers to ask questions instead of emailing them
  • Make active plans with friends, like golf or tennis
  • Play with your pets or kids (they need the exercise too!)
  • Plan family weekend activities like bowling, bike rides or hikes instead of movie or dining events
  • Park your car as far as possible from the entrances of work and stores

How can I stick with exercise once I start?

Team up with a buddy who can help keep you accountable. Track your progress on paper or through a fitness app to see how much you’re improving. Before long, you’ll notice the benefits of increased physical activity, which can motivate you to keep going.

Exercise aside, if you’re not feeling well this season, our network of U.S. board-certified doctors are available 24/7 for your non-urgent medical needs. Even if you’re traveling, you can reach us by app or online.

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We can help you stay healthy all year long. Here’s how.

Updated November 10, 2021

1https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
2https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
3https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults

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