How Much Exercise Do We Need?

We all believe that “exercise is good for us.” But what does that really mean? How does it impact our health and how much of it do we need?

Health is movement-dependent.

According to the World Health Organization, “physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.” Exercise is crucial to your wellbeing!

Exercise can take many forms, not just going to the gym or running. Exercise includes: sports, walking, doing household chores, gardening, dancing and others.

Besides living longer, benefits of regular physical activity include:
healthy weight maintenance
reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
reduced risk of some cancers
stronger bones and muscles
improved mental and emotional health
improved ability for daily activities

How Much Is Enough?

The standard recommendation for weekly exercise is 30-90 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity on most days of the week, or at least 150 minutes total each week. “Moderate” activity would mean moving your body at an intensity that allows you to maintain a conversation at the same time, like walking and talking with a friend. “Vigorous” activity would mean moving at an intensity that makes talking difficult or impossible.

I recommend starting with 30 minutes of moderate activity, 3 days per week, and then slowly increasing the intensity and amount of time until you are able to maintain at least 60 minutes of activities you enjoy, 5 or more days per week. As the total amount of exercise time increases, the total amount of health benefit increases too, up to triple the recommended level of exercise.

Cardiovascular health is a measure of the ability of your heart, lungs and bloodstream to supply oxygen to muscles. To improve this ability, get a good dose of “cardio” – sustained activity in which you are breathing somewhat hard (or harder) – such as walking, running, biking or swimming.

Muscular strength and endurance are also keys to good health. To improve them, perform strength-training exercises 2-4 times per week, training all major muscle groups. Performing strength-training exercises not only improves muscular fitness, but can also help your bone health (and density) by increasing the demands on them so they become denser in response.

Flexibility and balance are often overlooked, but both play a vital role in fitness and physical function. This is one reason to make training with machines, only a small part of what you do – machines do the stabilization for you and can actually decrease athleticism. Instead of using machines, try training with free weights, doing bodyweight exercises, or playing a sport or game that requires changing directions and speeds.

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(Thanks to Liz Brent for help with this article.)

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