If you ask: “How much exercise is enough?”, the answer is “Enough for what?” – If you simply want to not die horribly from lack of exercise, you should be fine doing light exercise like walking from a quarter to half an hour each day, or at least most days. If you want to participate in the Olympics, on the other hand, you should probably quit your job to concentrate on your exercise, as it would take more than a full workday.
Okay then, what if my goal is to live as long as possible? In that case, you should exercise as much as possible but not as hard as possible. From approximately half an hour a day and upwards to at least 3 to 5 hours a day, each hour spent on exercise is an hour of lifetime gained. So if you hate exercise, you have to ask yourself “how much do I really fear death”? Because you are basically trading an hour for an hour. That’s for moderate exercise. If you exercise hard for hours each day, you are actually shortening your lifespan. It is better to exercise hard for short time every other day if you just want to stay alive and stay in shape, and spent the rest of your exercise time doing light to moderate exercise.
Let us be honest here. If you don’t have sports as a career, you are not going to spend hours each day exercising. Simply doesn’t happen. And there are probably no other jobs left in the English-speaking world which count as “exercise” either. But if you manage to exercise hard enough that you can just barely keep a conversation or recite a poem, for half an hour (or a quarter twice a day), you will have drastically reduced your risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes II, several cancers and even depression. Ignore this, and health issues are likely to hunt you down. Go above and beyond it, and you should make sure to do something you like or that is genuinely useful, as you are likely trading an hour for an hour. (On average. Of course, you may collide with a truck tomorrow, but on the other hand, you may narrowly avoid a cancer that would have lopped 30 years off your life, and you won’t even know it. Averages are for crowds, but you are part of that crowd, like it or not.)
If you are obese, half an hour of moderate exercise will still halve your risk. It is just that your risk was twice as high to begin with. -_- In these case it is recommended that you exercise more, but if you could exercise more, you would probably have done so already. Obese people are not universally praised and given special benefits in our society, to put it that way. Still, it is better to move about and live than to lie down and die. Probably. I can’t remember having ever been dead, so theoretically it could be awesome and I would never know. But what I do know is that life is short and death seems to be very long.
If you are only moderately overweight, with a BMI from 25 to 30, your life expectancy is actually no different from most of those with normal weight. Most people in this category are able to exercise and have the motivation to do so, within reason. The 30 minutes of exercise seems to be particularly useful in this category, reducing the health risks all the way down to the same level as those who are not overweight at all. Those who already have normal weight are less motivated to stay active, and this may be why they generally don’t live longer than the moderately overweight. Or their self-reported non-smoking may be somewhat exaggerated.
Death is not the only danger on the couch. There is also the danger that you may be sick a lot, grow old before the time, think less clearly, experience frequent or even chronic pain (especially of the back), suffer from depression, be shunned socially and be cut off from various aspects of romance. If you don’t have time for exercise, you may have to take time out for health problems. So before you skip your 30 minutes, think twice.
(From the “practice what you preach” department: For what it is worth, I usually do a combination of walking and jogging, staying within the “fat burning range” for about an hour a day, which is literally what the doctor ordered since I have pre-diabetes. In addition I spend about half an hour a day on foot as part of my commute. Even single and childless, I would balk at spending 3 hours of my free time each day exercising. Perhaps I am going to regret that on my deathbed. Then again, there are a lot of things I will likely regret on my deathbed, if any. Including not spending more time writing this journal.) Now, get out there and dance if you still can!