How Long Does It Take to Benefit from Exercise?

Getting Fit: Immediate Benefits and Long-Term Adaptations

Getting fit takes time, but some workout benefits appear almost immediately. How long it takes to get in shape depends mainly on your starting point and how much time and effort you can commit to making lasting changes. Workouts are adaptable and customizable. No matter what, it's likely you'll start seeing and feeling measurable effects in a matter of weeks.

What are the Immediate Benefits of Exercise?

If you've ever walked out of a fitness class, or weight room or put away your bike helmet and thought to yourself, "I feel better now!" - then you are already experiencing the benefits of exercise. That reduction in stress and surge in a positive mood are two well-known benefits of being active, and they often take effect before the workout is even over.

If you struggle with chronic pain from arthritis or other conditions, the correct type of exercise may provide immediate relief. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that the effect of exercise on your blood sugar may also be immediate.

If you're exercising for weight loss, those effects are immediate, too, even if they're not easy to measure in the short term. Every workout or healthy nutrition choice you make is a tiny step in the right direction on your fitness journey, and they add up (just as any unhealthy choices do).

But don't beat yourself up if you take a step back every once in a while. Nobody's perfect all the time. Just remember that every healthy choice you make is a tiny success in its own right, and all it takes to turn a string of negative choices around - or continue a streak of good choices - is one more healthy decision.

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Exercise Adaptation is What We're Talking About When We Say "Get Fit"

When you talk about the longer-term benefits of getting fit, you’re really discussing exercise adaptation. Your body has adapted to the stress of physical activity and is now better able to handle it. If you stress your body with strength-training workouts, it'll get stronger. Stress its muscular endurance, and it'll respond by developing more.

Your heart is a muscle, too, so expose it to the stress of cardiovascular workouts, and it'll also build greater strength and endurance. Have you exposed your muscles to the "stress" of gentle, appropriate stretching? That's how you improve your flexibility.

As some experts point out, your body can adapt to almost any natural stress as long as a few conditions are met:

  1. Warming up the appropriate joints or muscles before you work out
  2. Applying sufficient stress during the training
  3. Allowing enough recovery time between training sessions.

Just as important is exposure to an inappropriate level of stress. If you've just started weightlifting, it may not be time just yet, to do a full Arnold Schwarzenegger workout. Increasing those levels by slightly upping the challenge every time your body adapts helps you stave off injury and builds strength.

A certain amount of variation is necessary, too, so that your body will continue adapting. That's why techniques like cross-training or exploring different sports and physical activities to vary the stress on your body are so helpful. Plus, they make exercise more fun!

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How Much Exercise Should I Do?

So, what's an appropriate amount of exercise to get fit? The most important thing you can do is get up and move. Any amount of movement, even 30 seconds or a minute, is good for you. So, start with whatever you're capable of - an hour-long run or a five-minute walk around the block - and then slowly increase your duration, intensity, or frequency (how many times a day or week) workouts as well your body adapts.

Once you're ready to set your sights on a longer-term goal, aim to satisfy the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidelines for physical activity. They recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio. If you can gradually double those amounts, you'll see even more health benefits from being fit.

The HHS also recommends strength-training your major muscle groups at least twice weekly. And although those guidelines don't specifically mention stretching, if you add a post-workout stretching session at least two or three times a week, you'll be well on your way to improving your flexibility too.

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Factors You Can Control

There's no scientific proof or consensus about how many times a week to train a muscle group. Given the importance of rest periods between workouts, don't assume that more always means stronger and better.

Aside from consistently hitting the gym, you can use a few other techniques to appropriately exhaust your muscles or, as strange as it may sound, damage them to induce hypertrophy - this is not the same thing as injuring them. Appropriate weight training practices will help you avoid injury as you tone your body.

Follow these guidelines to ensure safe workouts:

  • Always warm up the muscles you're going to train with 5 to 10 minutes of light activity.
  • Start with manageable weight while using good form.
  • Gradually increase the resistance or number of sets as your muscular strength and endurance improve.
  • Do slower repetitions to promote muscle growth by increasing the muscles' time under tension.
  • Switch up your workouts - this decreases the risk of overuse injuries while promoting muscle growth.
  • Stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and stretch after your workouts to rest and recover sufficiently.

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