Patients often ask me, "How much exercise do I need? How often should I do it?" The simplest answer is that you should do something aerobic every day, some activity that gets your heart beating faster and your breathing going, some sweat appearing on your skin. That does not mean attending an exercise class or putting in an hour on a stationary bike every day. It just means doing something vigorous or finding ways to make ordinary activities more vigorous. Gardening and yard work can be aerobic, housework can be aerobic, going out to get the mail can be aerobic. It all depends on how you do it.
For maximum benefit to your cardiovascular system, aerobic activity should be continuous and sustained for more than a few minutes. My recommendation is to work toward the goal of doing thirty minutes of some type of aerobic activity at least five days a week. Frequency is important; exercising for sixty minutes once or twice a week will not give you the same results. You don't have to begin at the recommended level, especially if you have not been exercising at all. Just keep in mind that you want to work toward that duration and frequency, then get there at your own pace. If thirty minutes seems like a lot of time, think about how much time you spend sitting and being inactive. Aerobic exercise is one of the key pieces of a program of preventive health maintenance. Thirty minutes of it five days a week is a sensible and moderate prescription.
I get bored doing any one aerobic activity and find that I am more likely to stick with my program if I make it as varied as I can. I like to run, hike, cycle, swim, dance, wrestle, jump rope, and jump on a mini-trampoline, and I try to mix all of these up. Not only does variety help fight boredom, it develops your body in better ways. Just as a highly varied diet is important to get all the nutrients you need and to avoid getting too much of substances you don't need, a varied aerobic diet makes sure that your body is worked in all the ways it needs and reduces the chance of overworking or injuring any parts.
Read more articles and information on healthy exercise in Dr. Weil's Exercise and Fitness section.