How much is enough?
How much exercise do I need?
At this point in the game we all know we should get some exercise, but do we know how much and what kind we are supposed to get? The “rules” seem to keep changing.
It’s about not sitting still
The latest – and most widely accepted - guidelines were published in 2018 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The first important point is that we should move more and sit less. Movement can help offset the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Individuals who are inactive have increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and All-Cause Mortality, i.e., death from all causes. (There is a lot of scientific evidence indicating that being physically active delays death from all causes.) The second important point is that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits.
So, this means if you are watching TV, it is better to do it while rocking in a rocking chair than sitting idly on the sofa. And it is better to talk on your cell phone while you are standing up. If you play video games then chose ones that cause you to move your whole body. Or - do like one of my friends – pace the floor while watching the Ohio State Buckeyes play football instead of sitting in the recliner and sulking. (Roll Tide!)
Basic guidelines for adults
Having made these points, in order to get substantial health benefits, most adults should get between 150 - 300 minutes (2 ½ - 5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week. We should also be doing muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week. This could be weight lifting, using elastic bands, climbing a tree or doing push-ups, etc. It is a good idea to also incorporate some stretching. These physical activities should be spread throughout the week. And the more we do, the more benefit we get!
By the way, if you do vigorous activity, the basic amount of time you need to engage in physical activity goes down to 75 minutes. If you can talk while doing the activity it is considered moderate-intensity but if you can only talk in short spurts because you need to take a breath then it is considered vigorous-intensity. One minute of vigorous activity counts for about 2 minutes of moderate activity.
There are a variety of activities you can do that count toward your aerobic (a.k.a., “cardio”) time. Some examples include swimming, vacuuming, active yoga, dancing, playing basketball or tennis, jumping rope, riding a bicycle, climbing stairs, shoveling snow, raking leaves, push-mowing the lawn, using an elliptical machine, and hiking.
For me personally, I typically go to the gym once a week for strength and 15-minutes of moderate cardio. Then I do 1½ hour walk/run on the weekends, and I go for a 45-minute walk with my boyfriend one evening a week. This gets me about 2 ½ hours of the equivalent of moderate-intensity exercise and one day of strength. Some weeks I do yard work or go for a second walk, but most weeks I don’t. I have a goal to do more strength work and to get another 30 minutes of activity each week, but I am not there yet.
It’s important to note that for some individuals, these recommendations differ.
For example, older adults are encouraged to add some balance training (such as walking backward or standing on one leg) and to be aware of how their physical activity levels are affected by any health conditions they may have.
Also, there are different requirements for children, for pregnant women and for individuals with chronic health conditions or disabilities. Please see the Physical Activity Summary for further information.
But I don’t have time to exercise!
Remember that first and foremost it isn’t about hard-core exercise or getting to the gym 3 times a week – it is about not being still.
Read your email while standing up. Get out of your chair and walk to the restroom on the other side of the office. Vacuum one room in the house. Dance for 5 minutes to your favorite song. Park further away when shopping. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Find creative ways to not sit still.
If you do want to intensify your physical activities, then start small. Maybe go for a short hike, or take your dog for a walk. (Your dog needs exercise too!) Try an intro tai chi class online. Ride a bike for 10 minutes. Instead of trying to exercise for an hour 3 days a week, experiment first by exercising for just 15 minutes one day for one week. See how it feels then tweak your experiment for week 2. Keep it simple, and make it fit with your life.
For example, Victoria works full-time and has two young children so she doesn’t have much time for herself. She is making it work for her life now by exercising once during the week and once on the weekends. She does a one-hour vigorous (which is the equivalent of 2 hours moderate-intensity) gym class that incorporates strength-training and stretching during the work week. She gets about another hour of moderate physical activity on the weekends by going hiking with her family. She also incorporates movement into her workday (by standing more and walking up stairs more.) In this way, she meets the basic physical activity guidelines. She has also set a goal to add another day of physical activity as her schedule allows.
Key points to remember
• Not sitting for too long is very important.
• Some physical activity is better than none, and more is even better.
• For greater health benefits, most adults should aim to get at least 2½ hours of moderate activity spread throughout the week.
• Start small and choose physical activities that fit with your life!