In 2008, the US Department of Health and Human Services established the following guidelines on physical activity:
AT LEAST, 2.5 hours of moderate exercise weekly like walking briskly, water aerobics, ballroom dancing, doubles tennis, or gardening OR 1.25 hours of vigorous activity like race walking, jogging or running, swimming laps, jumping rope, single tennis, and hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack.
Additional to aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise, the US Department of Health and Social Services also add a resistance training component to their recommendations. They state that adults should do strength training for every major body part (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms) at least twice a week. I already covered resistance (strength) training and provided a sample routine in an earlier post.
Confusion abounds on what constitutes moderate physical activity. Let’s take walking, for example. Taking a stroll by the lake after dinner is beneficial for your health since it decreases your stress and it is way better than sitting down watching TV, but you will not really get much cardiovascular benefit from this activity. The US Department of Health and Human Services establishes on their website that: “For most people, light daily activities such as shopping, cooking, or doing the laundry doesn’t count toward the guidelines. Why? Your body isn’t working hard enough to get your heart rate up.”
So when you exercise, you have to mean it. You need to raise your heart rate to the point that you are feeling the effort. I define walking briskly to my clients as walking at a speed necessary to run away from a stranger who is following you without him noticing you are trying to escape. Anything less and you are not doing much. The next step up would be race walking which is considered as vigorous activity.
As far frequency goes, you should exercise at a moderate level at least 3 times/week. Based on these guidelines you should exercise for 50 minutes 3 times/week or for 30 minutes 5 times/week. And this is the minimum amount of exercise per week. However, if you chose to exercise vigorously, you can get away with exercising for 30 minutes 3 times/week or about 20 minutes 5 times/week as a minimum. These estimates do NOT include warm up and cool down.
Again, these guidelines offer the minimum amount of physical activity to stay healthy. Nowhere on the site does it talk about guidelines for developing a beautiful body. I would expect you to improve your body composition (fat vs lean body mass percentage in the body) by following these guidelines. However, exercising to improve your physical appearance to fitness model, fashion model or Hollywood actor level involves more than just exercise. It involves good genetics, excellent nutrition, a strong determination and the time and ability to boost your exercise schedule. So start out by just wanting to be healthier and to achieve a minimum level of physical activity.
The government guidelines do explain that you can exercise in episodes of at least 10 minutes if your level of fitness do not allow you to exercise aerobically for a longer time. However, this is only a starting point. You should progress to the minimum physical activity guidelines that I explained above unless you have any condition that will impair your progression.
The summer is just around the corner and the weather is becoming friendlier to outdoor exercising. So, get your calendars out and start making time to meet these minimum exercise guidelines. GET MOVING!
For more information on physical activity guidelines for adults visit http://www.health.gov/paguidelines. This is an excellent site with plenty of great information and ideas to get you motivated to achieve your fitness goals.