What is the optimal number of times a week to exercise?
We know that exercise is one of the most important things we can do for our physical and mental health.
But how much do we actually need? What’s the minimum? Is there such a thing as too much?
To answer these questions, we first need to make sure we’re answering them in a way that fits in with our life.
Asking someone to exercise every day when they’re a busy young parent, FIFO worker or white collar corporate, just isn’t realistic. Sure, it would be great if they could, but it’s not going to happen.
So we need to balance how much you SHOULD do, with how much you CAN do. We need to find a middle ground that gives all the physical and mental benefits, while still making sure it realistically fits in to your life.
Let’s for a moment pretend that human psychology doesn’t come into this, and only look at the physical side of the equation. Of course this is completely not how the real world works, because we need to consider the human mind – motivation, habits, adherence, consistency etc., but it’s a good place to start.
Firstly, one session a week is INFINITELY better than none! So if you’re not currently exercising, doing something once a week will absolutely be life changing.
Something is better than nothing.
That being said, there’s only so much you can get out of one session a week. At Range of Motion Staff Professional Development events, our Personal Coaches often discuss the surprising acceleration of health improvements that come when our clients go from exercising once a week, to exercising two or three times a week.
Based on our observations, and over 65 years of collective experience working in the health and fitness space, exercising twice a week seems MORE than twice as good as exercising once a week. And three times a week seems twice as good as twice a week. Going from one to two, or two to three, or three to four, seems MORE than the sum of its parts. You can see this in figure one.
But then, in figure two, things start to change. The exponential growth of benefit starts to slow. Exercising five, six or seven times a week doesn’t continue the skyrocketing benefits we see from three or four sessions a week.
Now of course, if you can exercise six days a week – amazing. But is it really that much better than three or four days a week? Probably not.
Research has shown that certain types of exercise (like those we prescribe our clients at Range of Motion) result in what’s called ‘EPOC’, or ‘excess post- exercise oxygen consumption’. Basically, the science shows that after this sort of exercise, our body is operating at a higher metabolic rate for up to 40 hours! So if you can exercise three to four times a week, your body will be continuing to experience the benefits of exercise for almost the entire week. Almost like a ‘passive income’. Just four bouts of exercise per week can deliver around 160 hours of this ‘free’ benefit. Considering there are 168 hours in a week, three or four sessions a week again seems to be a ‘sweet spot’.
And when we try to fit our life in around our exercise, exercising more than three or four days a week might start to feel overwhelming and unsustainable. Because in the end sustainable and consistency are key.
Aside from the health and fitness benefits, three or four days of exercise a week is also the ‘sweet spot’ for habit formation. Exercise that often, and it will become an automatic part of your week – helping to put the health benefits of exercise on autopilot.
If you’re a client of Range of Motion, and want to find the sweet spot, we have an option called ‘ROM Plus’, where (for $25/week) you get full access to Range of Motion outside your one-on-one sessions with your Personal Coach. You also get to attend our four Supervised Training times each week, our weekly class and workshop, all our educational events, and much more.
The evidence seems clear. Whether we look at the physical benefits, or for psychological and behavioural reasons, if you can exercise three to four times a week, you’re optimising the return you’ll get on the work you put in.