How Much Exercise Is Needed for Disease Prevention?

When it comes to the health benefits of exercise, one thing is clear: routine physical activity plays a vital role in disease prevention. What hasn’t been so clear is how much exercise is needed to obtain these benefits. That is, until now.

Teams of researchers from Australia and the United States analyzed 174 studies which examined the effect that different types of exercise and different levels of exercise had on the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon cancer, and breast cancer. They discovered that increasing from no exercise to 3,000 to 4,000 MET minutes per week significantly reduced the risk of these five conditions. Exercising 4,000 to 10,000 MET minutes each week also had risk-reducing benefits, though at a much slower rate.

The results of this study are significant because they indicate that individuals need much more physical activity than previously thought. Current recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) say that individuals should aim for a minimum of 600 metabolic equivalent (MET) minutes per week for disease prevention. These new findings suggest an increase of nearly five- to six times that amount.

Many individuals are accustomed to measuring physical activity in minutes or calories, so measuring MET minutes may seem like a foreign concept. A MET is a unit used to describe the energy expenditure of a particular activity. In order to reach 3,000 to 4,000 MET minutes per week, you would need to complete these activities every day:

  • 10 minutes of stair climbing
  • 15 minutes of vacuuming
  • 20 minutes of gardening
  • 20 minutes of running
  • 25 minutes of walking or cycling


  • One hour of biking
  • 30 minutes of walking
  • One hour of cooking or washing dishes


  • One hour of vigorous running

While this amount of exercise may seem overwhelming for many individuals, researcher Hmwe Kyu, Ph.D, explains that weekly activity goals can be met through any form of physical activity. “The number might seem large, but it takes into account any activity you do, like getting to work, running errands and picking up after your kids,” she says. “Anything you do during the day can help you work towards that activity goal” (Source: Today).