Beth Shepard, MS, Exercise Physiologist, Contributing Writer:
Like many people, you may wonder how much exercise you really need to make a difference in your health. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recently published the first-ever Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, making a strong, evidence-based statement about the value of physical activity and the amount required for health benefits.
The Guidelines recommend 2.5 hours a week of moderate exercise, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity, or a combination of both – and you’ll boost your benefits if you put in double that time. You can make any activity moderate or vigorous-intensity by pacing yourself. Strength exercises – that involve all major muscle groups – are recommended two days a week.
It’s that simple. We’re talking a half-hour bike ride, swim, or walk each day - I can do that. Even on my busiest days, I can squeeze in three 10-minute walks.
Exercise reduces my health risks, and that matters to me. According to the Guidelines, there’s strong evidence that physical activity decreases risk of early death, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and certain cancers.
I’ve seen inactive family members fall prey to these conditions. Although my genes may put me at risk, my lifestyle is something I have control over. How can I not do everything I can to reduce my risks? Nobody can do it for me.
That doesn’t mean I feel like exercising every day. Some days it’s a real battle to get out the door or on the treadmill. But I don’t have to feel like doing something to actually do it. Like, doing laundry – or chaperoning a 3rd-grade field trip. Sometimes I just do what I have to do.
Most days, though, I look forward to exercise. It fills me with energy and a sense of well-being, and reduces my stress and muscle tension. I’m more “myself” when I get my workout in.
Think you’re too old or too sedentary for exercise? Think again. The Guidelines state that older adults should follow these basic adult guidelines for physical activity.
If you can’t do it all, do the best you can. Doing anything is better than doing nothing, and physical activity is safe for almost everyone. Experts agree that health benefits far outweigh the risks. If you have symptoms, multiple risk factors, or chronic conditions, check with your health care provider before getting started – chances are, you’ll get the thumbs-up.
As an exercise physiologist, I’m glad to see the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Maybe today’s children will reach adulthood in a culture where an active lifestyle is the norm and being sedentary is…well, uncommon.