TIME Exercise/Fitness

This Is How Much Exercise Experts Really Think You Need

People Running Jogging on Treadmill at Health Club Gym
Shane KatoGetty Images

Do your eyes glaze over when you hear how much exercise you should get each week? That looming 150-minute figure is the equivalent of 21 micro workouts a week—and it seems like nobody has time for that. This is the problem with our exercise recommendations, argues a new analysis published in The BMJ: They’re just set far too high to motivate the people who need them the most.

That’s the argument of Philipe de Souto Barreto, a researcher at University Hospital of Toulouse in France and author of the new paper. “Getting inactive people to do a little bit of physical activity, even if they don’t meet the recommendations, might provide greater population health gains,” he writes.

It’s not that the recommendations are off for optimal health. 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, which the World Health Organization sets as its target, is a great goal that’s been shown to reduce risk for all kinds of diseases and death, Barreto says. But other data shows that gentler goals can also provide important health benefits.

One study of more than 250,000 older adults found that getting less than an hour of moderate physical activity each week was linked to a 15% drop in death. Barreto also cites a review of 254 articles looking at the link between exercise and disease reduction, which found that the relationship between the two is dose-dependent. In other words, it’s not an all or nothing affair: even minor shifts can help people who don’t get enough exercise. Another analysis of studies found that when people walk just 1-74 minutes a week, they have a 19% reduced risk of death, compared to the most sedentary people.

“Achieving target physical activity recommendations should remain as a goal but not the core public health message surrounding physical activity,” Barreto writes.

Read next: 4 People Who Might Be Making You Fat

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