Recently, Tammy and I presented a workshop on meal prep and home exercise. During the fitness portion of the presentation, one of the questions I was asked was, “Is 30 minutes of exercise really enough?” This is a great question, but unfortunately not one that has a simple yes or no answer. It depends on several variables. Let’s take a closer look.
Variable #1 – It depends on how many days a week you exercise.
If you are exercising every single day for 30 minutes, then yes, that is enough. If you are only exercising two days per week for 30 minutes, then no, that is not enough. How many days per week you work out is going to be up to your individual schedule. If you can only work out three days a week, then you should consider bumping your sessions up to 60 minutes. On the days you can’t exercise, you should focus on increasing your regular daily movement. This could include getting up from your desk at work more than usual, parking further away from store entrances, or taking a walk with your kids. Even though these things aren’t full-blown exercise, they add up to additional steps and healthy benefits. If you aren’t so great at remembering to take more steps throughout your day, consider wearing a simple pedometer or checking out a Fit Bit. You can read all of my Fit Bit tips in these posts:
Variable #2 – It depends on your goals.
If you are simply trying to maintain your weight and live a healthy lifestyle, 30 minutes of exercise should be plenty for you. However, if you are trying to lose weight, then you will need to put in more time than that. Your sessions should be bumped up to 60 minutes. When you’re trying to lose weight, you need to burn additional calories on top of the normal daily calorie burn you get from just normal body functions. In the beginning of a workout, your body burns through sugars and carbs first. At around the 30 minute mark, your body shifts into fat-burning mode, so you really want to hang in there longer.
Variable #3 – It depends on your eating habits.
Hopefully if you are exercising, then you are trying to eat a somewhat healthy diet also. If you are eating pretty clean most of the time, then 30 minutes of exercise should be enough to maintain your weight and give you the healthy benefits your body needs. But we all have splurges and events where we eat more than we should. So if you went out for dinner last night and enjoyed a glass of wine, a rich pasta dish, and dessert, you should make today’s exercise session longer than 30 minutes in order to burn off those extra dinner calories. This is not be to be construed as punishing yourself, but balancing. Or you can be proactive and work out longer the morning of a night out, and plan for those extra calories ahead of time.
Variable #4 – It depends on the intensity of the exercise.
If all you are doing is walking for exercise, 30 minutes per session is ok for overall health, but it’s not going to be enough to lose weight or make significant changes to your body. If you are doing spinning, cardio kickboxing, or some other type of high-intensity cardio, then 30 minutes will be plenty (although if you can do 60, go for it). With these types of exercise you are going to get your heart rate up quickly and burn a ton of calories, so shorter sessions are totally fine. If you have been walking regularly for a while, it’s time to mix it up a little bit. Add 15 minutes of strength training after your walks. Or maybe you are ready to try taking it to a jog. Changing up your exercise routine will help you change up your body as well.
So, back to our question: Is 30 minutes of exercise enough? After taking into account all of these variables, you need to decide that for yourself based on your goals, your schedule, and your lifestyle. But I will say this: 30 minutes of exercise will always be better than no exercise at all. If you ever think, “Oh well, I don’t have an hour to work out today, so I might as well just not bother doing it,” you need to think again. Go for the 30 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 45 minutes, or however much you can do that day. We should set goals, but we also need to be realistic and deal with unexpected obstacles. Do what you can, and when you have the chance, do more!