Exercise and BMI: How much activity is enough?

Exercise and BMI: How much activity is enough?

4 Jul 2023
Stefano Mirabello Medical Reviewer
Pharmacist / B.Pharm

Are you struggling to figure out how much exercise is enough to maintain a healthy BMI? It’s a question that plagues many individuals. There is general agreement that a sedentary lifestyle is one of the most prominent risk factors for the increase in body mass index (BMI). Sedentary behaviours are undertaken in a range of settings, including home, travel, work, and in leisure time.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the relationship between exercise and BMI, provide exercise recommendations for optimal activity levels, and discuss other factors that impact your BMI. Let’s dive in!

Understanding BMI and its relation to exercise

Maintaining a healthy BMI is crucial for overall health and well-being. BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a measure of body fat, based on height and weight. According to the consensus statement on physical activity for health, engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week can help improve BMI levels. However, it’s important to note that individual needs may vary depending on factors such as age, gender, and medical conditions.

Regular aerobic exercise is an effective method to lose weight, reduce body fat and improve BMI levels. Incorporating activities such as brisk walking, running or cycling into your weekly routine can help you achieve optimal results. It’s essential to find an exercise regimen that works best for you and stick with it consistently over time, to see significant changes in your overall health and fitness level related to BMI.

What is BMI and why is it important?

BMI or Body Mass Index is a measurement tool used to determine if an individual’s weight is appropriate for their height. It calculates the ratio of body fat, based on these two factors and helps identify potential health risks associated with being underweight, overweight, or obese. Maintaining a healthy BMI is crucial, as it can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Here are some key takeaways about BMI:

  • A healthy BMI range falls between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Being underweight (BMI less than 18.5) or overweight/obese (BMI over 25) can increase your risk for numerous health issues
  • Regular physical activity like aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week can help you maintain a healthy BMI and reduce the risk of chronic illness
  • By a consensus statement from multiple organisations including World Health Organization (WHO), American Heart Association (AHA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should aim to get at least moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, to improve overall health outcomes

What are the health benefits of a healthy BMI?

Maintaining a healthy body mass index isn’t just about fitting into a certain clothing size or achieving a particular number on the scale. In fact, there are numerous health benefits associated with having a healthy BMI. By keeping your weight within a healthy range, you can reduce your risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and even certain types of cancer. Additionally, maintaining a healthy BMI can help improve your energy levels, boost your immune system, and enhance your overall quality of life. While achieving a healthy BMI may feel daunting at first, remember that small lifestyle changes can add up to a big impact on your health over time. Whether it’s through regular exercise, a balanced diet, or simply incorporating more movement into your daily routine, every step you take towards a healthier BMI is a step towards a healthier life.

How does exercise affect BMI?

Regular aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week can lead to significant reductions in BMI according to a consensus statement from leading health organizations. Engaging in moderate-intensity activities, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling can improve body composition, by decreasing fat mass and increasing lean muscle mass, both of which contribute to lower BMI scores. However, it’s important to note that the amount and intensity of activity needed for optimal BMI reduction may vary depending on individual factors like age, sex and overall health status. Consulting with a healthcare professional before starting an exercise program is always recommended.

Recommendations for exercise and BMI

Regular exercise is crucial for maintaining a healthy BMI. To improve BMI, it’s important to focus on both cardiovascular exercises and strength training exercises. Cardiovascular activities like running, cycling, or swimming can help burn calories and aid weight management, while strength training helps build muscle mass, which increases metabolic rate.

Maintaining a regular exercise routine can be challenging, but setting realistic goals and finding enjoyable activities can make it easier. Incorporating small changes into daily life such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going for a walk during lunch breaks can also contribute to overall physical activity level. It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures.

How much exercise is enough?

Understanding the minimum recommended level of physical activity is important when it comes to maintaining a healthy BMI. However, factors such as age, weight, and overall health can influence how much exercise you need.

NHS physical activity guidelines for age groups 19 to 64:

  • Do muscle-strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) at least 2 days a week
  • Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week known as aerobic activity
  • Spread exercise evenly over 4 to 5 days a week, or every day
  • Reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity

You can also achieve your weekly activity target with:

  • Several short sessions of very vigorous physical activity
  • A mix of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous physical activity

If you’re just starting on your fitness journey, don’t push yourself too hard too quickly. Strategies for gradually increasing your activity level include setting small achievable goals, finding an accountability partner, and incorporating more movement into your daily routine (like taking the stairs instead of the elevator). Remember that any amount of physical activity is better than none at all – so start where you are and build from there.

What types of exercise are best for BMI improvement?

Consistency is key when it comes to improving your BMI through exercise. To see the best results, you should incorporate a mix of cardiovascular exercises and resistance training into your routine. Cardiovascular exercises that elevate heart rate and burn calories such as running, swimming or cycling are great for burning fat and promoting weight loss. Resistance training using weights or bodyweight exercises can help build lean muscle mass, which in turn boosts metabolism, helping you burn more calories even at rest.

Incorporating HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) into your routine has also been shown to be effective for BMI improvement. This type of workout involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise, followed by periods of rest or low-intensity activity. HIIT workouts are time-efficient, but require maximum effort during high-intensity intervals, making them challenging yet effective for burning fat and increasing cardiovascular health.

How to maintain a regular exercise routine

Setting achievable goals and tracking progress can be a great way to maintain a regular exercise routine. Start by setting small, attainable goals, such as working out for 30 minutes three times per week. Use a fitness tracker or app to track your progress and celebrate when you achieve your goal.

Finding an accountability partner or joining a fitness community can also help keep you motivated. Having someone to share your successes and struggles with can make the journey more enjoyable and less daunting. Alternatively, joining an exercise class or group can give you the added motivation of social interaction and support.

‘Gamifying’ your workouts with apps or other technology is another fun way to maintain an exercise routine. Many popular fitness apps offer challenges, rewards, and friendly competition among friends, that can make exercising feel like a game rather than a chore. Incorporating these strategies into your routine may help keep you on track, towards achieving better health, through consistent physical activity!

Other factors that impact BMI

Regular exercise is undoubtedly one of the most crucial factors in maintaining a healthy BMI. However, other less obvious lifestyle habits can also affect your body weight and composition. For instance, research shows that chronic anxiety and stress often lead to overeating and unhealthy food choices, which can contribute to higher BMIs. Additionally, certain medications such as antidepressants or birth control pills may cause weight gain as a side effect, even when calorie intake remains constant. Therefore, it’s essential to consider these external factors when evaluating your BMI progress and making necessary adjustments to your overall health routine.

Another significant factor that impacts BMI is physical activity outside of structured workouts. Even if you’re working out diligently every day for an hour each time, prolonged sitting throughout the day can still negatively impact your metabolism and overall health outcomes over time. Thus it’s recommended to aim for 10k steps per day or more by incorporating light activities like walking during lunch breaks or taking frequent standing breaks during desk work hours whenever possible. These small changes cumulatively add up in reducing sedentary behaviour, while improving insulin sensitivity, leading towards improved metabolic processes, ultimately resulting in better health outcomes, including maintenance of healthy BMIs long term.

Diet and its Role in BMI

Maintaining a healthy BMI requires a balanced diet, which can be achieved through proper portion control. Eating smaller portions throughout the day can help regulate calorie intake and prevent overeating. Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into meals also helps fill up nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories. Additionally, reducing processed food intake reduces added sugars, unhealthy fats, and excess sodium, commonly found in these types of foods. By making these dietary changes, individuals can improve their BMI and overall health.

Sleep and stress management for BMI improvement

Getting enough sleep each night and managing stress levels are crucial components of improving BMI. Lack of sleep and high levels of stress can both contribute to weight gain, making it essential to prioritize these areas for overall health improvement. Practising relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation can help manage stress levels, while seeking professional help may be necessary for chronic issues with sleep or stress.

  • Aim to get at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night
  • Try practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation
  • Consider seeking professional help if you struggle with chronic issues related to sleep or stress


Finding the right amount of exercise can be a struggle for many people trying to maintain a healthy BMI. However, it’s essential to remember that every individual is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s crucial to listen to your body and find an activity level that feels sustainable and enjoyable in the long term.

In conclusion, while there are general guidelines on how much physical activity we should aim for each week, it ultimately boils down to finding a routine that works best for you. Whether it involves high-intensity workouts or low-impact activities like walking or yoga, any exercise is better than none at all. By incorporating regular movement into our daily lives and being mindful of our bodies needs, we can achieve better weight control and maintain a healthy BMI over time.

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