I know I should exercise, but how much is enough? I feel like I just don’t have the time or money.
I commend you on taking strides for a healthier lifestyle! Short of eating healthy foods, physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to prevent illness, early aging and death. Regular physical activity is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk, lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol, decreased stress, increased immunity, sleep quality, (deep breath), improved self-worth, confidence … the list goes on!
I can easily come up with 100 reasons why we should exercise and I challenge you to come up 100 reasons why we should not. We all know that physical activity is necessary if we want to be healthy and happy, but we also have lives to live. Sometimes it seems unimaginable to fit it all in, so lets break it down together.
The Surgeon General’s Report states that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on all or most days of the week is sufficient. For simplicity's sake, let’s say that at minimum one should exercise for at least three hours a week with one day off. When you break it down like that, it doesn’t seem like a lot. That is actually only 3 percent of the time a typical person is awake.
Furthermore, current research shows that even if physical activity is broken down into shorter, three, 10-minute bouts, it is still as beneficial as one cumulative 30-minute bout! Emerging research is also starting to show that those who achieve their three hours of exercise on just two days alone (“weekend warriors”) have similar health benefits to those who spread it out throughout the week.
It is important to note that this is the bare minimum to prevent chronic disease and ensure a healthy heart. The guidelines are a little different for weight maintenance and weight loss. Assuming that caloric intake remains the same, recommendations are that 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise is necessary to maintain weight, while 60 to 90 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise is necessary for weight loss.
Measuring intensity is difficult to do as the definition varies from person to person. In general, light intensity activity is defined as motion with ability to maintain a conversation with ease. Moderate intensity can be defined as enough activity that you are able to maintain conversation with difficulty, your heart is beating and you most likely will be sweating.
Conversely, vigorous activity is extremely difficult, conversation cannot be maintained, and the duration of the activity is also difficult to maintain. The good news is that with exercise there is a nice dose response, whereas if you work harder, you will gain more benefits.
Although this is a “hot” exercise science topic, and widely debated, most research points towards vigorous activity as the best option for weight loss/maintenance, prevention of chronic disease, and health outcomes. Generally, 20 minutes of vigorous activity equals 20 minutes of moderate intensity activity. The common criticism of vigorous activity is that it is simply hard to maintain and adherence is low. Furthermore, most people do not truly perform at a “vigorous” level and often overestimate their intensity and effort.
Again, one should aim for a cumulative time of 30-90 minutes of exercise on most days of the week, depending on what your health goals are. If you are starting from nothing, I would advise with 30 minutes as your goal and working up to that. It takes 21 days to form a habit, so if you can maintain that for three weeks, you have a good chance of succeeding with your physical activity plan.
More good news! You can do whatever you enjoy so long as you are meeting your frequency and intensity goals. It also does not have to cost a lot of money. Many people have cringe when they hear the word “exercise” and imagine a gym with weights and a treadmill. In reality, many people achieve and exceed these guidelines without even stepping foot in a gym.
Some alternate suggestions for physical activity that meets the moderate intensity requirement are as follows: gardening, bicycling, dancing, fast walking, Frisbee, hiking, beach volleyball, etc. Other activities that count as “vigorous activity” might be swimming, jogging, zumba, aerobic dancing, tennis, etc.
My final suggestion is pick something that you enjoy doing so that you will stick with it. Don’t get caught up in thinking that you need a bunch of fancy, expensive equipment to start exercising. Trust me, nobody knows it is your first day out there.
Also, beware of equipment costs. Many people do not realize that they can haggle gym membership prices and receive discounts for being a senior citizen, AAA member, a student or town resident. Also, many employers and/or insurance companies reimburse and discount these rates.
If you are unsure of a new sport, try purchasing a secondhand piece of sports equipment from craigslist or a wholesale online sporting goods store. Many places such as REI even rent equipment (ie, snowshoes, hiking equipment, etc.)
Many people are afraid to begin an exercise program because they are scared or have a list of barriers to overcome. It is important to first recognize and find solutions to those barriers so that when your defenses are low, and you don’t feel like working out, you have a way to overcome it. Below are some common barriers and practical solutions to common excuses.
- Barrier: I don’t have enough time.
Solution: See above! 30 minutes is all that you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and this can be broken up throughout the day. Short, 10-minute walks with a coworker would be a perfect way to break up the work day. Also, I often schedule my workout with myself in a calendar. That way I am able to analyze the day in advance and decide what I am realistically going to fit in.
- Barrier: I'm too tired after work.
Solution: Try waking up an hour earlier. For many people this seems implausible, however I challenge you to try it for a few days. Most people report that they have higher energy, higher metabolism, and better sleep when they exercise in the morning as opposed to the evening. Also, it feels so nice to know when you come home from work you have already achieved your physical activity quota for the day and you can just relax.
- Barrier: Exercise is boring.
Solution: Try signing up for a league or joining forces with a neighbor, friend or work colleague. Remember, four legs can always go farther than two. Sometimes just knowing that somebody else is depending on you for a workout is enough motivation to not hit the snooze button.