sports hours week activity

How Many Hours A Week Should I Exercise To Stay Healthy?

Clément Fournier - Editor in Chief

Trained at Sciences Po Bordeaux and at Mines ParisTECH in social, environmental and economic issues, Clément has been editor-in-chief of Youmatter since 2015.

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How much physical activity and sports hours are necessary in order for people to stay healthy? How many hours of sports per week are required to make it up for all the hours of sedentary office work? Let’s take a look at what recent studies say about this subject.

Physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are among the most important health risks in Western societies. Cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndromes (diabetes, obesity, etc.), bad posture disorders, depression or even muscle atrophies: all these risks are intensified by the lack of physical activity. 

However, most Americans or British citizens do not practice enough sports as they should. Studies show they take on average 5117 and 2000 steps/day during the week, respectively. Typical healthy adults take between 4,000 and 18,000 steps per day, with the NHS suggesting the ideal number of steps per day would be 10,000. The truth is: there are a huge amount of people that do not practice enough physical activity – even more nowadays with so many digital distractions.

Yet, regular physical activity is enough to help prevent many of the most common health problems of our society. But again: how many hours a week should people spend doing sports to counterbalance their sedentary lifestyles? Several studies have focused on these questions, let’s see what we can learn from them.

Health: Sports Recommendations Per Week Or Per Day

Officially, organizations like the WHO estimate at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity should be done per week. This means doing sports for around 20 to 25 minutes per day. 

On what concerns sports and physical activity, the United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults:

  • Do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity;
  • Do instead 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity;
  • Engage in physical activity beyond 300 minutes to gain additional health benefits;
  • Do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

Figthing Sedentarism: How Many Hours Of Sport Are Needed To Stay Healthy?

The Lancet conducted a meta-analysis with a sample with over 1 million people. They came to the conclusion that the people practicing at least 1h to 1h25 of relatively intensive physical activity per day had lower health risks compared to the ones who were physical more inactive and had a sedentary lifestyle.

Another meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sport Medicine concluded that sedentary individuals face a greater risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases were reduced for individuals practicing intense physical activity for a period of 1 hour per day.

Finally, a last study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed very interesting results too. It showed that for very sedentary people who sat for over 8 hours a day, an intense physical activity period of at least 45 minutes per day neutralized the health risks of sitting for so long.

These meta-analyses show that the negative effects of sedentary lifestyles can be reduced. For that to happen, that’s needed is a sports practice that lasts between 45 minutes (at least) and 1 hour 25 minutes. By doing so, the health risks of sedentary lifestyle seem to be reduced.

Sports, Physical Inactivity And Health: In Practice

We now understand that in order to make it up for the risks linked to a sedentary lifestyle, we should significantly increase our physical activity. Besides walking, which in any case is recommended as a daily regular practice, practicing real intense physical activity is highly beneficial. Sports cycling, fitness (bodybuilding, cross-training), running or swimming, group sports, combat sports: are some examples of intense or moderately intense physical activities.

However, committing to practicing sports every day is not exactly necessary. Indeed, by practicing much more intense exercises, it is possible to obtain similar health benefits in shorter periods of time. In general, the more intense the physical activity, the more the duration of the practice can be reduced. Several studies have thus shown that HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) training programs consisting of short periods (from a few minutes to about twenty minutes) of very intense exercise interlarded with breaks have a similar or even greater effect compared to long periods of moderate training. For example, HIIT programs have a positive effect equivalent to conventional programs on heart regulation, or on indicators like blood pressure. But to be effective, these programs must be really intense and induce a strong increase in heart rate and shortness of breath.

In summary, it is definitely beneficial that people spend greater periods practicing sports. Both moderate activities (cardio activities) for durations approaching one hour per day or more intense and sustained activities (HIIT, fractional…) for shorter durations can do the job. Perhaps the best thing is to actually kee changing between both types of intensity. And of course: to walk regularly.

A curious note: according to the American Council on Exercise, people who track the daily number of steps they take walk, on average, 2,500 steps more per day than those who don’t. Perhaps it’s time you get yourself a smartwatch? If you do, remember: their many benefits come along with negative sides that should be consciously managed.

[Image credits to swimmer and young on Shutterstock]

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