Use this simple, science-backed rule to see whether you're getting enough exercise

The "3:1" rule can undo the damage of a sedentary lifestyle and check you're getting enough movement in

Active man on a run
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The current guidelines on exercise state we should all be doing 150 minutes of scheduled exercise per week, or around 30 minutes per day. This represents just 2% of your day, but we still find it very difficult to fit structured exercise into our action-packed lives. 

But this depends on how much movement you can fit in your daily life: you might not need as much structured exercise if you've got an active lifestyle. 

One study conducted by researchers from Columbia University looked at how much structured exercise a person needs depending on how active they are day-to-day. An international team of researchers identified multiple ways to achieve the health benefits from exercise, mixing light everyday exercise with more intense structured workouts.

The researchers advocate the "3 to 1" rule: get three minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity, or 12 minutes of light activity, per hour of sitting

Back Pain

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"For decades, we've been telling people that the way to stay healthy is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week," says Keith Diaz, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia. "In other words, it is not as simple as checking off that 'exercise' box on your to-do list... A healthy movement profile requires more than 30 minutes of daily exercise. Moving around and not remaining sedentary all day also matters."

Incorporating lots of light exercise into your day can mitigate the need for so much structured workout time, and a sedentary life at your desk or sofa means you might actually need more exercise to offset all that sitting. The 3 to 1 rule is a great formula to identify how much exercise you need to offset your lifestyle. 

Light activity can be something as simple as walking. Walking to lose weight is a good way to incorporate more exercise into your day: even if you're just going round the block at lunch, it's an easy way to up your step count. All you need is some comfortable clothes and some of the best shoes for walking to get you started.

Speaking of step count, it's a good idea to buy one of the best fitness tracker or best fitness watch models. These devices can measure calories expended, count your steps for the day and prompt you when you've been sitting for too long. 

The best fitness watches cater to all manor of needs, but for our money, the Huawei Watch GT 2 is the choice that ticks the most boxes for most people, with great tracker technology and excellent battery life.

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.