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How long should you work out a day to see results?

Experts recommend 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. But starting there isn't always the best plan of attack.
Woman exercising in her garden
Even just five minutes of exercise comes with health benefits. Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

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How long should I workout each day to see results?

If you're a member of our Start TODAY Facebook group, you know that a 20-minute walk is the mainstay of our monthly workout plans.

Many people are shocked to see fitness plans that only call for a 20-minute workout each day. They often ask me if that’s really enough time to see any significant changes in their body and make a dent in their weight-loss goal.

It's a common question: What is the ideal amount of time for a workout?

First of all, some movement is better than no movement. Even five minutes of activity has health benefits! So I discourage people from putting a time limit on an effective workout. This is a trap I see people fall into way too often. For example, telling yourself that if you can’t fit in a 30-minute walk, then you won’t walk at all, or if you can’t motivate yourself to do that 45-minute bootcamp then it’s not worth it to exercise.

Even Jennifer Aniston admitted to falling victim to this trap. She recently shared that she had a "light bulb moment" trying shorter workouts and shifted her perspective on fitness away from thinking only longer workouts are worth it.

That being said, the CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, per week. So 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week is the goal to aim for. But if you aren't currently exercising, I don’t recommend starting with that goal from the get-go. Instead, work your way up gradually for a sustainable routine you’re more likely to make a habit.

New to exercise? Start with 5 minutes.

So much of establishing — and sticking to — a workout routine is mental. Starting with a workout length that is too ambitious can be daunting and make it hard to stay motivated. Plus, you’ll feel better about your body, boost your mood, and feel accomplished after just a few minutes of exercise. So I always advise people to start small. This is why I create so many five-minute workout plans and stretch routines for people to squeeze in to their day. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel after committing to just five minutes and it will help you overcome the biggest hurdle: getting started and sticking with it. The most effective routine, that will show you results, is one you stick to consistently. So start there.

Ready to commit to a solid workout routine? Aim for 20 minutes a day.

If you have the time, I always start my clients at 20 minutes of movement per day. Initially, it doesn’t matter what type of movement: a walk, run, yoga, stretching, Pilates, core work, HIIT workouts — anything is great!

Bite off an exercise goal that you can chew — and chew it consistently.

Starting with 20 minutes gives you enough time to warm up and push yourself to your max effort before cooling down. Eventually, working up to 30 minutes a day is ideal, but my motto is that slow and steady wins the race! Bite off an exercise goal that you can chew — and chew it consistently.

After you’re able to commit to the 20 minutes of movement a day consistently for a few weeks, I then recommend fine tuning your routine by focusing on your goals and choosing a type of exercise accordingly. Typically, my clients are stressed and holding onto fat in their midsection. So I recommend choosing a form of exercise that helps them de-stress. It may be going on a walk, sweating it out with a HIIT workout, or having some fun by doing some dance cardio. If toning is the goal, start to incorporate 20 minutes of strength training a few days each week.

Once 20 minutes of movement is a habit, make 30 minutes of strategic exercise the goal.

Once you’ve made 20-minute workouts a habit, you can start to increase the amount of time you’re exercising to that recommended 30 minutes a day.

Does thinking about committing to 30 minutes a day seem overwhelming? That’s OK. Following this two-step plan of attack will help you get there:

  • First, start with five minutes a day to prove to yourself that you can habitually exercise.
  • Then, work on steadily increasing that workout time to 10 minutes, then 15, and so on.

The gradual increase will have you hitting that 30-minute mark in no time. And don’t forget that three, ten-minute walks throughout the day or two, 15-minute strength sessions count!

More of your questions, answered!