How Much Exercise Is Enough? Or Too Much?

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head Trainer, Mid Age Man

How often should you work out? How much exercise is too much? The minimum requirements for exercise suggested by the U.S. government may surprise you.

How often should you work out?

To be honest, too much exercise is a problem most of us would love to have. But rest, recuperation and even enough sleep are important if we’re going to gain tone, lose fat and build muscle.

The “bare minimum” might surprise you. You may not even be meeting that.

The U.S. government recommends that, for “substantial health benefits,” adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days per week, or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 times per week.

But for “additional and more-extensive health benefits,” adults should perform at least 1 hour of moderate exercise 5 times per week, or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise 5 times per week.

And on top of that, adults should also do “muscle-strengthening activities” that are moderate or high intensity, and involve all major muscle groups, on 2 or more days per week, “as these activities provide additional health benefits.”

So although the basic requirement is pretty low, you would be exercising pretty much every day to get that 30 minutes of HIIT cardio on 5 days as well as a strength training session at least 2 times per week.

This is the U.S. government we are talking about, which has to oversee not only some of the fittest people on the planet but also some of the fattest. One-third of Americans are obese. Even 16% of teen-agers, running around full of hormones, doing sports and god knows what else, are overweight.

Feeling the strain?! Jesse (pictured) does resistance training during the Mid Age Man sessions that the insurer Prudential puts on in Kwai Chung Sports Ground, but also runs and works out.

Interestingly, kids should also be doing “muscle-strengthening” as well as “bone-strengthening” workouts at least 3 times each week. That’s as part of the 60 minutes of physical exercise they should be doing every day. Oh and the recommendations also say the exercise should be fun!

Actually, in government-speak, they should be “enjoyable” and “offer variety.” While this is certainly great for kids, I’d suggest it’s pretty important for adults, too!

The widespread theory that weight training at a young age will stunt your growth is a bit of a myth. Concerns about the effects of resistance training on the bodies of children “appear to be widely exaggerated,” according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which gave me my training.

Free weights and machines have been found to be safe, “with no negative impact on growth and maturation,” the NASM says. They cite a study by Robert M. Malina, a professor at the University of Texas, which concludes that training with weights and resistance under good supervision and a low instructor/participant ratio is “relatively safe” and does “not negatively impact growth and maturation of pre- and early-pubertal youth.”

So when my son says he wants to lift up a kettlebell, I make sure his back is braced correctly, that he uses his legs to lift, and then say go for it!

Resistance training is vitally important, particularly as we get older. Load-bearing exercise helps us retain muscle, regenerate bone and bring blood to the other fibers in our body, be it ligament, cartilage or brain.

But the process is one of destruction, then a rebuild. Much like Darwin’s evolution, we kill off or tear up the weak fibers in a bid to build them back stronger. The sheer act of maintaining muscle involves ripping it up so it will repair.

That’s why our muscles are sore the day after a workout. We have created a series of micro-tears among the muscle fibers, which our body must now repair with the protein building blocks that make it up.

This process typically takes about two days. The pain in your muscles, assuming you have not pulled or torn a muscle significantly, should die down within a couple of days. This also means that the metabolic burn that you have produced by engaging in strength training will continue for the next 48 hours.

To lose weight, you should therefore engage in resistance training every two to three days. On the other days of the week, you can get in some cardio of your own choice.

If you are doing high-intensity workouts, you shouldn’t be overloading on the resistance training more than that. But the intensity of “high intensity” matters. To be honest, most of us aren’t going 100% or even 80% all out during our workouts.

If you feel you’re hitting 50% to 60% of your maximum, you won’t be overtraining with 30- to 45-minute resistance sessions even 5x per week, in Mid Age Man’s book.

On the 6th and 7th days, if you like, man, woman and youth alike can rest.

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About the author

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head trainer at Mid Age Man. Alex believes there are four pillars to being healthy: physical fitness, sensible nutrition, mental strength, and wellbeing for your body and soul.

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