When you start getting in to a regular workout routine, it can be tempting to swipe that gym membership card every day. You’re feeling a rush of endorphins after each sweat sesh, and you might even be seeing results already. Go you!
When it comes to exercise, you may think the more you do it, the better, but that’s not always the case. While there’s no “right answer” in how often you should work out, hitting the pavement or weights every single day with no rest days in between likely does more harm than good.
Finding the “right” amount of times to exercise each week might take some guess-and-check work. “It’s important to take an active role in your programming and see what’s working for you, and see what’s not working for you,” says Holly Rilinger, Nike Master Trainer, author, and certified fitness trainer in New York City.
Not sure where to start? Most studies suggest a good baseline is 30 minutes, five days a week. Another way to think of it: The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week, which you can break up throughout the week as it fits your schedule.
If you have specific health goals, you can tweak that basic 150-minute guideline to fit your needs. “If you have goals of losing fat, then you want to make those 30 minutes a day more intense,” says Rilinger. Learn more about workout intensity here.
But the key here is that stepping up your workout intensity does *not* mean working out every day. “Rest and sleep are the unsung heroes of fitness,” says Rilinger. “Putting in two days of not working out at all—giving yourself a break physically, mentally, and emotionally—is going to get you a lot further than actually doing too much.”
On rest days, you don’t necessarily need to spend it on the couch. You can still do stretches, go for a leisurely walk, and continue eating well. In fact, research shows people who eat well seven days a week—that means no “cheat days”—have better success in keeping excess weight off long-term. Here are more habits of people who successfully maintained weight loss.
How you fill those 30 minutes is also crucial. “It’s important to have diversity in your workout,” says Rilinger. “It’s also important—if you have goals to lose fat or get stronger—to make sure you’re doing the things that are going to get you there.”
For example, a 30-minute walk is great for staying active and keeping joints mobile. (Here are more benefits of walking.) However, if you’re looking to lose weight, develop your flexibility, improve your balance, or gain muscle, you might benefit from more intense or targeted workouts: HIIT workouts, swimming, weight-lifting, running, etc.
Moral of the story? One size does not fit all, but in general, you don’t need to exercise seven days a week. And for your workout days, find out what Holly Rilinger recommends to eat before and after exercise.