I tend to cringe inside when people ask me how much exercise they should do. I do this because typically they are seeking answers that I cannot give them. At times they want some form of affirmation that they are already active enough and that for them, no change is necessary. And, often they are disappointed to hear that they aren’t meeting the recommendations. I admit that it can be discouraging to think about how difficult it may be to add the recommended amount of activity on top of their already hectic, overbooked daily routine. So, before we look at ways of managing the psychological aspects of a good exercise program (which I believe is just about as important as the exercise program itself), let’s at least give some short answers to the questions concerning how much exercise do experts recommend. Once we get that out of the way, we can move on to focus on the practical aspects of an exercise prescription.
Starting Small Is Okay!
Let me begin with some great news for everyone: any amount of physical activity above what you are accustomed to has some benefit. So long as you are doing more than you used to do there is a degree of self-congratulations in order, however small, at first. If you park at the edge of the parking lot and walk further than you want to the storefront when you stop at the store… that qualifies! If you can stand more and sit less during your day, that’s great. Maybe you can take one flight of stairs instead of just one of the floors you would otherwise stop at when riding the elevator. Maybe that’s your “one small step,” or “one giant leap for mankind” (depending on your level of fitness). So, to repeat: any amount of physical activity above what you are accustomed to has some benefit. Got it? Good. Let’s get it!
Now to be clear, I don’t want you to think is that a little bit of improvement is enough. For my bi-lingual friends, I might say it like this: A little bit is better than nada, but it’s sure not the whole enchilada! Small starts, little changes in habits are indeed important. My friend Vicki Griffin likes to emphasize this truth and highly recommends people read one of her favorite books, Atomic Habits, by James Clear. The point or purpose of making small changes though is to be able to work your way towards achieving larger and lasting changes in your lifestyle. Let’s see what those larger goals are as outlined in the latest CDC guidelines for physical activity (https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/age-chart.html).
There are separate guidelines for different populations/age groups. I will summarize the recommendations for the main groups below (additional information may be found by following the link above):
- Ages 6-17: One hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity every day. On 3 days of the week, these periods of activity should include strength training for muscles and bones as well.
- Adults 18 years and over: A range of 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. A range is given because the resulting health benefits are measurably dose-dependent (just like most medications), as well as interchangeable (75 minutes of vigorous activity is equivalent to 150 minutes of moderate activity). Aerobic activity is best spread throughout the week. Additional benefits are seen if you include at least 2 days of the week during which strength training is done for all major muscle groups.
- Pregnancy: A range of 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. If before becoming pregnant, a mother was habitually accustomed to more intense levels of physical activity, these may continue. Her pregnancy should be monitored throughout the prenatal period by qualified professionals.
- Those with chronic medical conditions or disabilities: Recommendations are identical to adults 18 and older if their abilities allow for it. Otherwise, they should avoid inactivity and engage in regular physical activity to the extent allowed by their medical condition.
Call to Action: Start Something Today!
There you have it. Those are the shortest answers you can get, inclusive of a wide range of circumstances, that is based on the latest scientific evidence. Of course, all these things are more easily said than done. So, for our next installments in this series, we will be discussing how one might be most likely to succeed when incorporating new physical activity into one’s lifestyle.