Women setting up the fitness smart watch for running. Young fitness women runner checking time from smart watch. Young woman checking heart rate while jogging in the park.
We all know that fitting in time to exercise is important, but we also know that it definitely isn't always easy (despite what a lot of celebrities with a ton of personal wealth, assistants, maids, nannies and on-call trainers say). Let's face it, most of us aren't training for the Olympics—we just want to feel good and for our clothes to fit. How much exercise can you get away with in a week while remaining healthy? Trainers weigh in.
Is Three Hours a Week Enough Exercise?
For most normal people, yes, three hours a week is fine—but that all depends on what your goals are.
"Three hours a week of exercise is sufficient if your goal is to keep moving and maintain one’s physical state," Jenny Liebl, CPT, and senior content director at the International Sports Sciences Association, tells us. "And, let’s face it, for some people, three hours a week is all they can fit in or muster up! That is a perfectly realistic goal for exercise duration."
Cara D'Orazio, CPT, founder, owner and fitness instructor at C.G.M. Fitness, says that if you're exercising in your target heart rate zone for half an hour five times per week, "It would be just enough to stay healthy and in shape combined with the correct diet. This is equivalent to about two and a half hours per week." By those metrics, three hours would be even better, if only by a little bit!
Related: The Best Cardio Workouts
What's the Minimum Amount of Exercise Someone Can Get Away With Each Week and Still Be Healthy?
Make no mistake: Even a little something is better than nothing at all.
"I want to be clear, any exercise is good and counts towards your health," says Eric Cohen, CrossFit L1 trainer and competitive CrossFit athlete. "I spend a lot of time convincing people that a 15-minute walk or video class counts. Do it. Don't think that if you don't have 30 or 60 minutes to work out, it's just not worth it. It is."
"If you can get in four to five 30-minute walks per week, you'll build muscle and improve your cardio-respiratory system," Cohen adds. "Done regularly, this routine will improve many if not all of your biomarkers such as blood pressure and AC1."
Marshall Weber, CPT, and owner of Jack City Fitness, says most people can get away with three days of exercise per week, but you should aim for a bit more if possible.
"This is the least you would want to work out a week and still be able to maintain your health," he explains. "If you work out less, you won't be making a big difference, and hopefully you find time to work out more than three days a week to reach your fitness goals."
Is Three Hours a Week of Exercise Enough to Lose Weight?
D'Orazio says that it's possible to lose weight by exercising three hours per week, but there are some factors to consider.
"If you can stay in [your] target heart rate zone, weight loss is possible with three hours of exercise per week! However, you need to eat the appropriate amount of calories for your weight," she advises. "Staying in [your] target heart rate zone for a half hour six days per week and eating the right amount of calories will create the deficit needed to potentially lose weight."
If you're not sure how many calories you need to consume to stay healthy during your weight loss journey, talk to your doctor—they know you best.
Is Three Hours a Week of Exercise Enough to Build Muscle and Improve Strength?
Put simply, it depends.
"If someone is trying to build strength, I would say three hours a week of exercise both is and is not sufficient," explains Josh York, CPT, founder and CEO of GYMGUYZ. "How you build strength depends on your age, your activity level and the types of exercise you are doing. Three hours a week can be enough for some people, but it might not be enough for everyone."
Strength and muscle gain goals typically require more training volume and, in the case of strength, a relatively high training intensity. These two training variables require a decent amount of training time each week! For this reason, three hours per week of exercise is likely not sufficient to see measurable strength or size gains.
Weber says that to get those gains, you'll want to up your time to at least five hours per week of strength training.
That said, Pruitt says it is possible, with a few caveats.
"Three hours a week can be effective, particularly if focused on targeted strength training and progressive overload," he says. "However, muscle gains also heavily depend on proper nutrition, recovery and the intensity of workouts."
Are There Any Exercises That Can Cut the Time Required to Work Out?
Weber says that in theory, this is doable, but it may not be too enjoyable.
"Doing supersets can cut your workout time down. To perform these, you need to be set up to do two different strength exercises, and you perform them in succession without taking a break," he explained. "If you did these throughout your whole workout, you would cut your workout time in half, but would be completely exhausted."
If you're looking for a fast workout option that doesn't require equipment or a gym membership, you're in luck.
Cohen recommends going for a walk or run (depending on your fitness level) and stopping every two minutes to do five pushups and 10 squats. This way, he says, "You'll get the benefits of both resistance training and aerobic training."
Eric Cohen, CrossFit L1, competitive CrossFit athlete
Cara D'Orazio, CPT, founder, owner and fitness instructor at G.C.M. Fitness
Chris Pruitt, CPT and CEO, WorkoutHealthy.com
Marshall Weber, CPT and owner of Jack City Fitness