How often do you really need to exercise to get results?

New research suggests there’s a sweet spot when it comes to how much exercise you need to reap rewards – and it’s probably less than you think.

Official exercise guidelines recommend doing something physically active on most days but preferably every day of the week.

But when it comes to seeing results, how much exercise do you really need?

Why exercising three times a week gets results

A new study from Edith Cowan University shows that performing a single, quick exercise three days a week leads to small but significant increases in strength.

In comparison, people who did the exercise two days a week didn’t experience any improvement.

“Our previous work has shown regular, shorter exercise is more beneficial than one or two big training sessions a week,” study lead author Professor Ken Nosaka says.

“Now we have a clearer idea of where the tipping point is, where you start to see meaningful benefits from such a minimal exercise.”

The study also found that people who performed the exercise five days a week saw bigger improvements in strength than people in the three-day group.

But don’t be tempted to stretch that to seven days a week in order to reap even greater rewards.

“Muscle adaptations occur when we are resting, so muscles need rest to improve their strength and their muscle mass,” Prof Nosaka says.

Why short bursts of exercise activity matter

While Prof Nosaka says more research is needed to find out whether the study’s findings translate to other types of exercise, recent University of Sydney research supports the idea that short bursts of frequent, vigorous exercise can deliver results.

The study shows just 4.5 minutes of daily activity that makes you huff and puff – think doing housework, carrying heavy shopping bags or playing with the kids – can reduce the risk of some cancers by up to 32 per cent.

So, how often should you exercise?

Rumble Boxing master instructor Rachel Ashton says any research supporting the benefits of shorter or fewer exercise sessions is positive.

“Studies have shown that, depending on a person’s goals, activity level and age, working out three times per week can be effective for most people,” Rachel says.

“Obviously, working out more often is even better, but this is great news for people who are time poor, new to exercise or struggling with motivation.”

If you are going to run with the “less is more” approach, Rachel says it’s still important to include a mix of cardio and strength-building exercises in your weekly workout plan, as well as exercises to improve balance and flexibility.

“Aiming to do a mixture of these types of exercises every week is optimal for good health,” Rachel says.

See Luke Hines take on a Rumble Boxing class on The House of Wellness TV show:

How to include a mix of exercises in your routine

“A basic template for anyone starting out or short on time could be a brisk walk two or three times per week, along with strength training two times a week and a short stretch session after each workout to help with recovery and flexibility,” Rachel suggests.

“Most importantly, doing an activity you enjoy will keep you consistent and looking forward to exercise – whether it’s a walk or run along the coast, a dance class or joining a sports team…

“Working up a sweat is not only good for your physical health, but for your mental health, too.”

Read more on exercise and making the most of your workouts:

Written by Karen Fittall.