How Much Aerobic Exercise Should You Be Getting? The Evidence Based Answer.

Last week I described a simple treadmill test made specifically for firefighters that you can use to predict your aerobic capacity (aka. “VO2max”), which is a measure of aerobic fitness.

In the past I’ve explained that maintaining a high level of aerobic fitness is really important for firefighters since the job can be extremely challenging for the cardiovascular system (and a low aerobic capacity increases risk for cardiovascular events). Another added benefit of having a high aerobic capacity, and one that all people benefit from, is that the risk of developing chronic disease is SIGNIFICANTLY lower for an aerobically fit person compared to unfit.

So how much aerobic exercise do you need to get in order to experience this benefit?

Before I tell you, you must know that the answer comes from a very in-depth investigation of the past 60 years of exercise science research (in other words, I’m not makin this sh** up!). This investigation resulted in the Physical Activity Guidelines For Americans which states that in order to benefit from a (very) reduced risk of developing chronic disease, the volume of exercise required per week is:time-pixabay

150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, OR 75 minutes of high intensity, OR a combination of the two.

So intensity is important. You must be working hard enough so that your heart rate/breathing increases. If you are breathing hard but could still hold a conversation, you are probably working at moderate intensity. If you could not comfortably hold a conversation, you are probably working at high intensity.

The shortest duration that “counts” for moderate intensity exercise is 10 minutes, while even 1 minute of high intensity exercise can be beneficial toward improving aerobic capacity. If you do resistance training and that increases your heart rate/breathing, as it often does, those minutes count too. For firefighters, this means some of your job duties may count too.

I mostly do moderate intensity so I shoot for three 50 minute workouts per week. Sometimes I bike uphill to work, which gets me breathing hard and takes about 10 minutes, so I count those minutes too. Do what works for you.

Last but not least, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be running to be exercising! I think this is a common misconception. Anything that increases your breathing/heart rate will improve your aerobic capacity. There’s more about that topic in this post.

So get counting your minutes! In the comments below, I would love to hear how you plan to, or how you already do, meet your 75-150 minutes per week. If you realized that some of the things you already do can “count” toward your exercise minutes, tell me about that too!

If you’re not on my list to get more health tips like these, enter your name and email below.

By | 2018-06-01T07:51:13+00:00 September 18th, 2013|Uncategorized|2 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Karlie Moore has a PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and specializes in firefighter health. She has conducted fitness testing on hundreds of firefighters and has created the most comprehensive online wellness program for fire departments called the FitCulture program. Dr. Moore is also married to a firefighter and so understands their lifestyle and the health challenges associated with it.


  1. Greg Friese September 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Low intensity – daily dog walk of about 15 minutes

    Moderate intensity – 3 to 4 x per week running and biking

    High intensity – I am 4 days into the “Insanity” workout program. Not convinced yet that this type of workout is for me. I really enjoy interval high intensity training while running or biking. Not sure yet about this type of bouncing and “dancing”

    • Karlie September 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      Hey Greg, it sounds like you are definitely meeting the 75-150 minute recommendation. Excellent job! The report also tells us that those who meet 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise experience the very lowest risk of developing chronic disease (the greatest reduction in risk occurs between 0 and 150 minutes so that is why we promote that threshold first and foremost).

Comments are closed.