When we think about exercise, it’s easy to overlook the cumulative benefits of activity, or not being sedentary (what I call wasting calories). Researchers have studied individuals who start an exercise program, and an unexpected thing happens. Individuals who start exercising regularly often do a little less during the rest of the day. They might park closer to the store, use the stairs a little less, or use email to communicate with a co-worker instead of walking over to their office. On average, people who started an exercise program decreased their activity enough the rest of the day to cancel out some or most of the calories they burned during their work out!
If you’re an athlete and are already at your optimal body weight, then this pattern is fine and justified. But if you’re not at your optimal weight, then you’re negating some of the benefits you should be getting from your exercise. Even if you are exercising regularly, you still have to park farther away from the store, take the stairs, and do everything you can to burn calories whenever possible to ensure you maximize your exercise benefit.
The next important question is, “what should I do, and how much should I do it?” Just like with your diet and nutrition, there’s no black and white answer. The answer depends in large part on what your goals are, how much time you have to devote to exercise, and any medical issues you have. Since most of these are very individual, I discuss basic recommendations and encourage you to discuss the particulars with a physician or someone with the proper training to help you with the details.
If you’re looking to optimize your health and start feeling better and more energized, following current guidelines is the best place to start. This means some form of cardiovascular exercise for a total of 150 minutes per week. Most recommendations state 30 minutes 5 days per week, but you could just as easily do 50 minutes three days a week if that works better for your schedule. This exercise should be at moderate intensity, meaning you can carry on a conversation with someone but might need to take an extra breath or two every three to four sentences. If you can talk away for the full 30 minutes unhindered, you aren’t working hard enough.
If you’re taking an extra breath every other word or can’t talk at all, you’re working at a high intensity. It’s a great strategy once you have a good base fitness level, and generally 20 minutes at high intensity is equal to 30-45 minutes at moderate intensity for cardiovascular exercise. If your primary motivation is general fitness, the type of exercise you choose isn’t as important as long as it gets your heart rate up. Each mode of exercise has advantages and disadvantages, but it’s most important to choose the things that you enjoy doing.
Strength Training Matters
Many people neglect the area of strength training, but it becomes critical as you age to slow down muscle loss. Starting in your late 40s to early 50s, men and women begin to lose muscle at approximately 1% per year. By your 70s, that rate of muscle loss accelerates to 1.5% per year. That’s why it’s important to include strength training two times per week for 20 to 30 minutes. You can’t stop muscle loss completely, but you can slow it down so it doesn’t impact what you want to do. No matter how old you are, your body will respond favorably to resistance training!
You don’t have to go to the gym and lift weights to build your strength. If you don’t like the gym, elastic bands and body weight exercises will produce improvements in strength if used regularly. Keep things simple to start – spend 20 to 30 minutes doing eight to 10 difference exercises (upper body, core, lower body). Start with two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. If you’re able, consider purchasing a few personal trainer sessions to learn which exercises to do and how to do them safely.
Consistency Is Key
If time is short and you don’t have 45 minutes for cardio, do what you can do. Even 10 minutes provides some benefit while reinforcing the exercise habit. Skipping one workout increases the likelihood that you’ll skip the next day’s work out as well. Although there’s no perfect time to work out, those who are morning exercisers tend to be more consistent, which is the key to success! Reasons to work out tend to accumulate during the day, so getting it done first thing eliminates that issue.
Are you interested in learning more effective strategies to improve your health? Call CHI Memorial Integrative Medicine Associates at (423) 643-2246 today to schedule an appointment.