How Long Does it Take to Get in Shape

Karen Frazier
fit happy woman flexing

How long does it take to get in shape? It seems like a simple question, but there are a number of factors that affect the answer. In shape is a general term for fitness, but what is in shape?

Getting In Shape

People have different definitions as to what it means to be in shape. For some, it may mean having the ability to run a mile. For others, it may be as simple as walking up the stairs without getting winded. Others might view being in shape as being able to perform at a competitive level in various sports and activities.

Getting in shape can definitely mean different things to different people, so it is important to define being in shape before one can ask, "how long does it take to get in shape?"

Fitness Defined

The term getting in shape is synonymous with fitness, and the definition of fitness is quite specific. Being physically fit encompasses five components of health.

Cardiorespiratory Endurance

This is a component that is most commonly thought of as fitness. It is the ability to have your cardiovascular and respiratory systems function well during exercise. One has achieved fitness in this component when they can carry on a conversation while exercising without being hugely winded and their heart rate quickly returns to normal following exercise.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is defined as the ability of your muscles to perform repetitive tasks over time.

Muscular Strength

This component of fitness is exactly what it sounds like. It is the ability to use your muscles to their fullest extent in your daily life.


Flexibility is the ability to move your body's joints throughout a full range of motion.

Body Composition

This refers to your lean body mass to body fat ratio. A healthy body composition is essential to overall health and can help you to avoid heart disease and diabetes. A healthy body composition is anywhere between 8% and 25% body fat for men, and between 15% and 32% body fat for women.

How Long Does it Take to Get in Shape?

Looking at the components of fitness above, you can see that asking, "How long does it take to get in shape?" isn't as easily answered as it might seem. The answer depends in large part on where you start. Some people may achieve a healthy body composition and all of the other components of fitness in about six weeks, while others may take months to get to a point where they meet the full definition of physically fit.

Just because it may take months, however, is no reason to not start. Even when you start a workout routine from a long period of being sedentary, you will begin to notice the benefits right away if the routine is approached appropriately. Within a few weeks, you will notice changes in all of the above elements of fitness. Within about six weeks, you will be ready to take your workout routine to the next level.

The answer, then, is that getting in shape isn't a destination, but rather it is an ongoing process. Your body will immediately begin to show the benefits of exercise. Within one to two weeks, you will start to notice changes in all of the five components of physical fitness. Within six to eight weeks, you will find your current workout is too easy, and you will need to bump up the intensity to the next level. This is an ongoing process, and as your fitness level increases, your ability to perform activities will also improve. If you wish to continue to see improvements in fitness, you need to keep increasing the effort and intensity of your workouts until you get to such a point that you are ready to maintain them.

Tips for Getting in Shape

Whether you are extremely sedentary or extremely active, there are always ways to improve your level of fitness. Here are some tips for beginners:

  • Start out slowly. If you have been a couch potato for a long time, you may injure yourself if you immediately jump full-on into fitness. Give your body time to adapt to increased exercise levels by starting slowly with 15-20 minutes of light exercise two to three times a week and working your way up to 30-60 minute workouts several days a week. By doing this, you can avoid injury and keep yourself motivated.
  • Find a workout that you find enjoyable. If you hate every minute of it, you probably aren't going to enjoy it.
  • Rest is just as important as exercise. No matter what your level of fitness, rest is important. Your body needs rest from exercise and adequate sleep in order to repair and renew itself.
  • There's no substitute for proper nutrition. Providing your body with the fuel that it needs is important. Minimize the junk in your diet and maximize whole, healthy, nutritious foods that fuel your body.

As you can see, there is no pat answer to the question of how long it takes to get into shape. Fitness is a process, and not a destination. By eating well and moving your body, you can begin to reap the benefits of better health through fitness right away.

How Long Does it Take to Get in Shape