Should you work out every day?
You’ve got the time and the motivation but should you work out every day? Let’s look at the pros and cons of exercising daily
Whether you want to maintain momentum with your exercise routine, consistently lose weight or reach your fitness goals, working out every day might be something you want to try. Maybe you’re worried about the physical consequences of overtraining. Or maybe you have concerns about mental burnout, which could lead to losing motivation. The good news is you can work out every day if you carefully plan how you work out.
When you’ve made the decision to commit to daily training, how can you make sure you do it safely? How do you avoid the negatives of working out every day? We’ve asked a fitness expert for their top tips and have found the science that proves you can meet your daily exercise goals. And if you feel you need a motivation boost to keep you on track, take a look at our guide to the best fitness trackers to find the right one to support your fitness journey.
Is exercising every day safe?
Working out every day is safe as long as you include a balance of different types of workouts throughout the week. High-intensity cardio workouts on too many days a week or overloading your schedule with strength training will inevitably lead to injuries and burnout.
On the other hand, high-intensity workouts combined with strength training, flexibility workouts and light cardio will ensure your body has time to recover. As long as you are working different muscles on different days there will be time for your muscles to repair and come back stronger for your next workout.
Jessica Baldwin, a lecturer at the School of Health and Kinesiology, University of Nebraska Omaha, says: “Everyone should aim to be active for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. To be more specific, cardiorespiratory exercises can be done every day. However, you should not work the same muscle group(s) every day with resistance training (also known as strength training). Muscles need between 24-48 hours to recover before working that same muscle group(s) again.”
According to research, there are mental benefits to working out every day. A 2005 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that daily physical exercise, particularly swimming, maintains and improves cognitive functions and memory, and reduces the chances of dementia. Similarly, in 2007 researchers in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that daily treadmill training produced a significant enhancement in spatial learning and memory.
The physical benefits, if you get the right workout balance, are shown to be numerous, too. A 2006 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicated that regular physical activity contributes to the prevention of several chronic diseases and is associated with a reduced risk of premature death. It found that people who engaged in exercise at levels above those recommended in the guidelines promoted by Health Canada were likely to gain further benefits.
Are there negatives to working out every day?
If you regularly exercise at a high intensity for several days a week and overtrain the same muscles on consecutive days you are likely to experience the negative effects of working out every day. According to Medline Plus, pushing your body too hard can lead to feeling tired, depressed, having trouble sleeping, getting overuse injuries, losing motivation and feeling anxiety.
The American Council on Exercise advises that the more you work out, the more benefits you will achieve but warns that there is a point when too much exercise leads to negative effects, known as overtraining syndrome (OTS). It advises that the signs for people to look out for include a decrease in performance, excessive fatigue, loss of appetite, chronic injuries and psychological stress.
However, it is crucial to remember that overtraining syndrome is a result of an imbalance of the types of workouts done every day of the week and not the actual decision to work out every day. Bear in mind these negatives then you know when to alter your fitness plan to avoid overtraining.
Tips for those who want to work out every day
To give you an idea of some of the types of workouts you could include in your weekly schedule, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends four types of exercise to improve health and physical ability: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Across the week you could balance high-intensity cardio workouts with working out a group of lower body muscles on one day and upper body muscles on another day, balance exercises, a yoga or pilates class or gentle stretching, and light cardio, such as walking, gentle swimming, leisurely biking or dancing.
The length of your workouts will depend on your level of fitness and personal goals. However the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in 2018, recommend that adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. So you could divide this total across your week and allocate a certain time for each of your chosen workouts. The guidelines also advise that adults should do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week, so include this in your schedule, too.
Once you have a plan, how can you ensure you avoid overtraining? Medline Plus recommends you eat enough calories for your level of exercise, decrease your workouts before a competition, drink enough water when you exercise, aim to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, do not exercise in extreme heat or cold, cut back or stop exercising when you don't feel well or are under a lot of stress, and rest for at least six hours in between periods of exercise. You should also recognize when exercise has become a compulsion and, if it has, you should seek professional medical help.
- Read more: How to recover from injury
How to keep up working out every day
Even if you have a long-term motivation to exercise every day, such as a weight loss or fitness target, there are always going to be days when you don’t feel like working out. So what can you do to stay motivated – and how can you prepare for a workout?
“Goal setting is one of the best ways to stay motivated to work out as you are tracking your progress,’ says Baldwin. “Be SMART – your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-oriented. Tell your goal to a friend or family member too; this will help hold you accountable. Then, of course, reward yourself when you accomplish your goal.”
Baldwin also advises breaking your workouts into smaller sections and recording them. “You don’t need to get your entire workout done in one session: fit it in when you have time (morning, lunch, between meetings) and try to accumulate 30 to 60 minutes a day. Also, to stay motivated, make sure you log all your workouts on your calendar, planner, or using a fitness tracker.”
Fitness trackers are a valuable motivational investment as they provide immediate feedback on step count, heart rate, and caloric expenditure. “Keep track of your steps and aim for 10,000 steps a day,’ says Baldwin. “Have your tracker send reminders to move when you’ve been sedentary too long, and set up your target heart-rate zones to know how long you’ve spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity intensity.”
Another great way to stay motivated is to work out with a friend, or take part in group exercise classes. According to a study in the Journal of Social Sciences in 2010, participants gravitated towards the exercise behavior of those around them.
“Having a friend to work out with will hold you accountable, make time go by faster and increase the fun factor,” says Baldwin. “Also, group exercises classes are a great way to try a workout you’ve never done before, or if you’re new to working out, since the instructor will show and tell you what to do. They also provide a fun, positive, and social atmosphere. Additionally, the group exercise instructor will surely keep you motivated throughout the entire workout.”
Swim Everyday to Keep Dementia Away, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2005)
Daily Running Promotes Spatial Learning and Memory in Rats, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2007)
Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence, Canadian Medical Association Journal (2006)
The evolution of physical activity recommendations: how much is enough? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2004)
Effects of Perceived Fitness Level of Exercise Partner on Intensity of Exertion, Journal of Social Sciences (2010)
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Emma Larard is a freelance writer who has contributed to a range of publications including Outdoor Fitness, Triathlon 220 and the Times Educational Supplement. Previously an assistant editor at Writing Magazine and a secondary school English teacher, she now combines freelance journalism with private tuition. She also competes in triathlons and enjoys open water swimming and sportives.