Along with a nutritious diet, regular physical activity is vital to a healthy lifestyle. Over the past century, advancements in technology have transformed the perceptions of hard-work and physical activity and have limited the opportunities for physical activity on a daily basis. These advances have enabled our society to live a life of ease and comfort. However, this ease and comfort can ultimately lead to inactivity, which is directly related to the incidence of disease, injury, weight gain, and other health related problems. Use these exercise recommendations to start a routine that fits your ability level.
Regular physical activity is known to result in the following benefits:
- Stress often suppresses the immune system. Exercise reduces stress levels, thus strengthening the immune system.
- Regular exercise can slow down the aging process.
- Regular exercise increases the body’s ability to circulate blood and oxygen to all the vital organs and muscle groups in the body.
- Exercise, most often, has a positive affect on one’s mental and emotional health.
- Physical activity is known to reduce and sometimes eliminate the risks of common diseases and illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
Who should exercise?
EVERYONE should exercise (with the few exceptions listed below). Exercising is safe and can be enjoyable for most people if done correctly and in the right amounts. Even people with health conditions or older adults should exercise. In fact, these people often benefit the most from physical activity. If you are normally a sedentary person or are out-of-shape, be cautious when starting an exercise program and start with low-intensity exercise for a short amount of time, gradually working up to the optimal amount.
Do not exercise without the advise of a doctor if:
- You have recently undergone surgery or another form of serious injury.
- You feel dizzy, nauseous, or have severe pain in your muscles and/or joints.
- You are experiencing shortness of breath.
- You have a chronic disease in which your doctor has told you not to exert yourself.
- You have any reason to believe that your body is not functioning normally.
When and how often should you exercise?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, in addition to two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).2 Although the recommendation is per week, it is better to exercise five or six days per week for 30 minutes each day, than to exercise one or two days in the week for an extended amount of time. You should exercise at the most optimal time of day for you and whatever time works best for you and your schedule. This may be early in the morning, in the middle of the day, during your lunch break, or late at night. You should never exercise on an empty stomach and you should drink water before, during, and after exercise, regardless of the intensity.
How should you exercise?
Aerobic Activity — Also known as “cardio,” aerobic activity increases your breathing rate and your heart rate. Aerobic activity improves your cardiovascular health and improves your bodies ability to circulate blood and oxygen throughout the muscles and organs. This is where the concept of the “target heart rate” (THR) is important. The THR is the minimum rate at which your heart should be beating to get the aerobic conditioning effect. To determine your THR, you need to know your maximum heart rate (MHR), which is 220 minus your age. Once you have your MHR, multiply that number by 65% and 80% to get your THR range. To get the most benefit from your aerobic exercise, you should work hard enough to make your heart beat at least at 65 percent but at no more than 80 percent of the maximum for your age. For a 40 year old, the calculation would be as follows:
220 40 = 180
.65 x 180 = 117 (low end of THR)
.80 x 180 = 144 (high end of THR)
Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Walking briskly (a 15-minute mile pace)
- Water aerobics
- Jumping rope
- Treadmill machines
- Stationary bike
Perform aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes each session and at least three times per week.
Muscle-strengthening activities — These activities work to strengthen all major muscle groups in the body. To gain health benefits, muscle-strengthening activities should be done to the point where it’s hard for you to do another repetition without help. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, such as performing a bicep curl. There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, either at home or at the gym.
Here are some examples:
- Lifting weights
- Working with resistance bands
- Doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (i.e., pushups, sit ups)
- Heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling)
Some additional exercise tips:
- Find an exercise buddy
- Keep track of your physical activity
- Decide how you will reward yourself
- Find activities you like to do so it’s easier to stay active in the long run
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing