How Often Are People Really Working Out?

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You’ve heard of “gymtimidation,” but we suspect people suffer from another common ailment that saps some joy out of their fitness routines: gymposter syndrome, our term for the sneaking suspicion many of us have that everyone else is working out more than us.

It’s to be expected. You can only swipe past so many gym selfies and video clips featuring the inside of invitation-only gyms before you start to feel like while you’re on your phone on your couch, everyone else is busy working out.

But how often are people really hitting the gym?

The truth is, you’ll get different answers depending on who you ask. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only one in four adults reach the physical activity recommendations for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. (That’s at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity five times a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity three days per week, per the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), FYI.)

But if you follow mostly fitfluencers online, it probably seems like way more people are working up a sweat way more often than that stat would imply.

In an attempt to normalize the fact that there’s a huge variation in people’s typical workout routine, we decided to anonymously poll PS Fit followers on Instagram. In an Instagram story, we asked how often our followers work up a sweat. We also asked our PS Fit followers why they exercise — and the answers surprised us (in a good way).

How Often Do People Work Out?

Our anonymous poll, which was posted to the @ps.fit Instagram story, collected a total of 441 responses over a 24-hour period. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the subject matter at the heart and soul of PS Fit, the answers revealed that our readers are definitely more on the active side.

Our results showed that one in four people report working out six to seven times a week. More than half of respondents — 60 percent — said they work out three to five times a week. Ten percent work out one or two times a week, and five percent of people said they work out less often than that.

We have to stress that this is only a small number of responses, in comparison to the overall population within the United States. Rather than being indicative of a sweeping trend, this data is just meant to provide a quick snapshot of how often some of our readers stay active each week. And the bulk of people fall into that three-to-five-times-a-week sweet spot.

Why Do People Work Out?

As a follow-up to our first poll question about frequency, we also asked readers to respond with why they typically choose to work out. And these answers warmed our hearts more than a really good cardio session.

Responses fell into a few main themes. Many people cited longevity-related reasons as the motivation for their gym routine, noting that they valued exercises’ benefits for bone health, mobility, and energy. Mental health was another big inspiration for people to work out. Survey participants noted that exercise seemed to improve their resiliency or provide stress relief. Exercise also helps people feel physically strong and more confident, according to our survey. And a handful of people simply said that it makes them feel, well, good — or even great — which is a pretty fantastic reason for working out. Finally, a handful of survey participants mentioned weight management as a motivator. But they were in the minority.

The good news is that if you work out for any of these reasons, you’ll likely get exactly what you want. Exercise can help you stay healthier as you age, and a study in the journal Circulation that included 116,221 adults found that hitting the recommended weekly targets was associated with a longer lifespan. It can also benefit mental health, confidence, and energy levels: a 2023 review of previous research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine confirmed that physical activity “is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress” in adults.

How Often Should People Work Out?

It bears reminding: there’s no one exercise schedule or routine that’s best for everybody. Some of the most common barriers to exercise are related to time — as in, not having enough of it, according to data collected from participants between the ages of 18 to 64 years old, in a study from the Journal of Family Medicine and Disease Prevention. And if you’re struggling to find time to get to the gym, feeling as though everyone else is doing more than you, or that you have to hit a certain number of minutes per week or it’s not worth it, can make it even harder.

Plus, physical activity is about more than just getting to the gym. Walking, mini at-home workouts, household chores — these are all things that may contribute to your overall activity levels in a positive way, even if you don’t necessarily count them toward your weekly workout totals.

Ultimately, remember: what works best for someone else may not be the right routine for you. And at the end of the day, exercise is supposed to be about helping you feel your best — so let’s leave the gymposter syndrome at the door.

Jade Esmeralda, MS, CSCS, is a Staff Writer, Health & Fitness. A life-long martial artist and dancer, Jade has a strong passion for strength & conditioning, sports science, and human performance. She graduated with a Master of Science degree in Exercise Science and Strength and Conditioning from George Washington University.

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