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How Much Exercise Do You Need to Be and Stay Healthy?

How Much Exercise Do You Need to Be and Stay Healthy?

We tend to make assumptions about healthy people and exercise in general. Assumptions of the likes of: if you’re healthy and fit, you must love to exercise. Or it takes a lot of effort to get fit and healthy.
We tend to couple raw effort with success. Exercise a lot, and you’ll be fit. Work a lot, and you’ll be rich? Wait! That doesn’t make sense. A lot of people work a lot.
What if you want to be healthy, but exercise is not your pastime of predilection? There are other things you’d do with your time, money, and energy. You often find yourself reflecting: do I need to spend 2 hours in the gym every day? Do I have to spend fortunes on personal training? Do I have to hit the entire rainbow of heart zone for the exercise to be effective? The answer to all these is no.
The exercise problem is an information and willpower problem. It’s not a purely physical problem. People don’t know what to do, how and when, to generate the largest effect with the least effort.
You need to exercise if you want to enjoy good health. Yet, you don’t need to work your way through ridiculously long workouts. You don’t need to drain every last drop of energy out of you. You also don’t have to break the bank.
If you read our dosing philosophy, you have noticed that Marco’s Grounds is very much about minimum effective doses, i.e., the minimum dose required to reach the desired outcome. Everything beyond the minimum effective dose is wasted.
The minimum effective dose needed to be healthy and feel energized is much lower than you might think when it comes to exercise.

“To Doubt Everything, or, to Believe Everything, Are Two Equally Convenient Solutions; Both Dispense With the Necessity of Reflection.“

—Henri Poincare

Minimum Effective Dose of Exercise

“To boil water, the minimum effective dose is 100°C at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it more boiled.”
―Tim Ferriss

Let’s get right to the juicy part: how much exercise is enough?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the minimum weekly amount of exercise for optimal health in adults is 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity [1].

But let’s get into the fine print so that you can put this into action.

What Are Moderate Exercise and Vigorous Exercise?

You could use the “talk test” as a simple way to assess intensity [2].
If you’re doing a moderate activity, you should be in a position to talk but not sing. If you’re doing vigorous exercise, more than a few words in a row should be impossible without taking a breath.

What Are Examples of Moderate and Vigorous Activities?

Moderate activities might include:
  • Walking
  • Light cycling
  • Leisure sports (e.g., snowshoeing, golfing, dancing, etc.)
    Vigorous activities may be:
    • Strength training
    • Running
    • Jump rope
    • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

      Loading Factor: Duration

      Does the length of the session matter? Is there a minimum bout amount to benefit from exercising? This might be surprising, but the answer is no.
      The previous WHO recommendations published in 2010 stipulated that a single exercise session shouldn’t be shorter than 10 minutes in duration to “count.” However, the revised 2020 guidelines removed the time requirements due to research that shows any duration is linked with improved health outcomes as long as the weekly net total meets the minimum recommendations [3]. This is also in line with the minimum amount of exercise needed to incite a GLUT-4 response on muscle cells’ membranes. If you forgot what that means, GLUT-4 is responsible for transporting glucose into cells, hence multiplying the exercise effects (GLUT-4 stands for glucose transporter number 4). I mentioned this in a tangent on Professional Vagabonding.

      Long story short: it takes little to trigger hormonal responses to exercise, be it the well-known mighty testosterone or the equally potent yet less considered IGFs (Insulin Growth Factors).

      What Else Does the WHO Suggest?

      If you’re interested in going above the minimum recommendations for exercise intensity and duration, the WHO suggests strength training at a moderate or greater intensity at least two days a week. This bonus is for those who enjoy lifting weights since strength training counts towards your overall activity. “Don’t do cardio; lift weights faster,” they used to say.
      In sum, with just a few short weekly workouts, you can unlock most of the benefits of aerobic exercise, including:
      • Enhanced cognition levels through BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)
      • Improved mood and elevated energy levels
      • Lower rates of all-cause mortality
      • Stronger bones and muscles
      • Healthy body composition and weight management
      • Decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (did you know that sitting for too long will raise your blood sugar levels without any food even entering your mouth—enter standing desks)

      And since there is no one single absolute right way to hit your time and intensity targets, below is a customizable plan you can use to ensure you get the greatest benefit from the smallest amount of exercise.

      The Minimal Exercise Protocol

      Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
      “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
      “I don’t much care where—”said Alice.
      “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
      “—so long as I get somewhere,”Alice added as an explanation.
      “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
      —Alice in Wonderland

      Step 1: Set Your Goal

      If you prefer moderate intensity, all you need is a weekly 150 minutes. If time is scarce and want to get the most juice out of every squeeze, aim for 75 minutes of strenuous physical activity per week. You can mix things up in a combination of the two.
      Logging 75 or 150 minutes is your goal. How you get there is up to you.
      Here are a couple of ideas:
      • Sprinkle little movement breaks throughout your day. Do three 10-minute sessions of moderate activity five days a week to hit the 150-minute target. This includes anything from light cycling to little walks.
      • Into kettlebells? Do Marco’s Kettlebell Minimalism coupled with a few walks outside.
      • Use your lunch break efficiently. Take advantage of your breaks to get short 15-minute vigorous workouts like jumping rope or running.
      • Do bigger workouts less often. If shorter workouts aren’t your cup of tea, three 50-minute moderate workouts or three 25 vigorous workouts will get you to your goals. Yoga or CrossFit classes are great for this.

      Step 2: Choose Your Activity

      The simpler, the better. Don’t overcomplicate this part. What you do matters less than the intensity and duration. Pick an activity with a low friction point that is enjoyable. From there, keep focusing on logging your minutes.

      Step 3: Block Time

      Although this may seem unnecessary, many well-intentioned exercise aficionados often fail to turn good intentions into action because of neglecting this step.

      This should be simple enough. It is so simple you may be thinking if there’s anything else you could add. What else could you add to get even more out of your minimalist exercise program.

      The Overachieving Minimalist Upgrades

      Are you looking for the most significant return on the smallest investment of time? Have a look at these exercise enhancers:
      • Exercise outside at sunrise: vitamin D supports immune health, and morning light exposure can improve your sleep by optimizing your circadian rhythm. Andrew Huberman also recently published research showing the benefits of watching sunrises and sunsets on mood. This is obvious for most people. Rising with the sun and going to bed early lifts spirits.
      • Workout in a fasted state after drinking your coffee. Both fasted exercise and caffeine enhance fat burning, which can help you reach your body composition goals faster [4][5].
      • Exercise with a friend. People with strong social bonds are healthier and live longer irrespective of their exercise habits. Body strength directly correlates with health, and strength of relationships directly correlates with life satisfaction. So, working out while foisting a friendship is arguably one of the healthiest two-for-one moves you can make [6].

      Extra Credit

      Cold immersion has been shown to replicate the benefits of cardiovascular activity. Immersing yourself in a cold bath (cold enough for your body to be shivering after 5 minutes) for 20 minutes yields the same cardiovascular and mental benefits as 60 minutes of moderate exercise. There’s a hard to ignore three-for-one multiplicator there.


      1. Bull, Fiona C Et Al. “World Health Organization 2020 Guidelines On Physical Activity And Sedentary Behaviour.” British Journal Of Sports Medicine Vol. 54,24 (2020): 1451-1462.
      2. “Measuring Physical Activity Intensity.” Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, 17 Sept. 2020.
      3. Jakicic, John M Et Al. “Association Between Bout Duration Of Physical Activity And Health: Systematic Review.” Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise Vol. 51,6 (2019): 1213-1219.
      4. Vieira, Alexandra Ferreira Et Al. “Effects Of Aerobic Exercise Performed In Fasted V. Fed State On Fat And Carbohydrate Metabolism In Adults: A Systematic Review And Meta-analysis.” The British Journal Of Nutrition Vol. 116,7 (2016): 1153-1164.
      5. Kurobe, Kazumichi Et Al. “Combined Effect Of Coffee Ingestion And Repeated Bouts Of Low-intensity Exercise On Fat Oxidation.” Clinical Physiology And Functional Imaging Vol. 37,2 (2017): 148-154.
      6. Umberson, Debra, And Jennifer Karas Montez. “Social Relationships And Health: A Flashpoint For Health Policy.” Journal Of Health And Social Behavior Vol. 51 Suppl,suppl (2010): S54-66.
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