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To be healthy, we're supposed to exercise at least x hours a week, one can read here and there. But does it depend on the person? Does it have to be divided into daily pieces or can it safely be packed into saturday + sunday for instance? And what would be the safest figure for the minimum weekly amoung of exercise for securing optimal health?

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IF going by the bare minimum to "be healthy" you could do some low intensity daily. For example it is recommended to walk for half an hour every day. But being "healthy" (whatever that means) is outside of the scope of this site. If you want to be fit, you probably will have to exercise overy other day, doing quite intense workouts. –  K.L. Sep 10 '13 at 9:54
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Actually I though fit and healthy were synonymous. What's the difference? –  drake035 Sep 10 '13 at 12:21
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Being healthy would be lowering your cholesterol, lowering your heart deasease risk etc. Being fit is looking good and being able to do athletic performance on some level, for example run, swim, climb, lift things etc. Climbing stairs and running up to a bus stop without losing your breath may be examples of being "fit" to some degree, but also being able to run a 5/10/42km race. –  K.L. Sep 10 '13 at 14:58
    
An understanding of General Adaptation Syndrome will tell you that yes: you can have too little stress to induce change--therefore too little exercise to improve health markers. –  Berin Loritsch Sep 10 '13 at 15:49
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@K.L. Looking good is very subjective and not really an aspect of 'fitness'. Zyzz looked great, but died early from a heart condition induced by supplament abuse. Not exactly fit or healthy. –  Lego Stormtroopr Sep 10 '13 at 23:49

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you need:

2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

  • Moderate Intensity Aerobic Activity ranges from 55% to 75% of your MHR (max heart rate); or a level of exertion of 12 to 16 (somewhat hard to hard at a steady pace) on the Borg Scale when exercising. Your doctor may also give you guideline targets.

    Calculate your exercise target heart rate using the Karvonen Formula that takes into your resting heart rate into account.

Once you have safely progressed from the above recommended level without injury, gradually increase to:

5 hours (300 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

There has been some more recent information that this activity level alone is not enough if you sit for prolonged hours. The suggestion is that you need to take regular activity breaks from sitting in addition to the above exercise recommendations to lower your risk of cardiometabolic disease.

The idea of packing all your activity into the weekend would not be optimal. Doing so could also increase your risk of injury and not give you the health benefits of regular activity. It is best to schedule your routine into your daily life. The above guidelines are to improve your health. As your health and fitness level improves you will want to re-evaluate and adjust your activity level.

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The Bare Minimum of Exercise

Major health science organizations recommend a minimum of substantial aerobic activity and several strength training workouts per week. For instance, the CDC says that according to the evidence,

Adults need at least:

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

(If I may interject here: the recommendation of "brisk walking" has been criticized for being easily subverted into plain walking. They really mean brisk. It's got to be moderately intense--a hike, not a stroll.) Anyway, the CDC's recommendations continue:

OR

  • 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

OR

  • An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

Note the section on that page titled "For Even Greater Health Benefits". The minimum really is the minimum!

Similarly, the World Health Organization recommends:

Adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

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