Although it’s no secret that exercise is good for you, the majority of Americans don’t get enough. In fact, national health data indicates that more than 80% of adults do not meet guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities!
If you’re in the minority of Americans who are meeting physical activity guidelines, don’t congratulate yourself just yet. Another problem afflicting many of us is the number of hours spent sitting every day. In other words, if you go to the gym for an hour every day before work only to find yourself sitting at a desk for 8 hours, you may find yourself at risk for some of the chronic diseases physical activity helps prevent.
The month of May is National Physical Activity Month, so this is a great time to increase your awareness of health guidelines for exercise and sitting.
It’s important to first note that some physical activity is better than none. But just how much do you need for health, and is there such a thing as too much exercise?
Evidence shows that a minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity per week (30 minutes per day, five days per week) decreases risk of chronic illness, including several forms of heart disease and some types of cancer. Doubling this amount to 300 minutes per week (60 minutes per day, five days per week) provides even more substantial benefits. However, there is no evidence to indicate that getting more than 300 minutes of aerobic activity per week is even better, and excessive exercise can be harmful.
In addition to getting in 150 – 300 minutes of aerobic activity, strength training 2-3 days per week is also recommended. Strength training helps preserve lean muscle mass, which is increasingly important as we age. There is no time recommendation for strength training, but you should aim to exercise your core (back and abdomen), arms, and legs. It’s also important to note that there are plenty of strength training activities that can be done without hand weights and barbells. Resistance exercises using your own body weight are very effective forms of strength training exercise.
As briefly mentioned, sitting at a desk all day negates the benefits of exercise. This may explain the increased number of treadmill and standing desks (standing still is OK, it’s the sitting that’s killing us). If you don’t have this luxury, try to get up for a few minutes at least once per hour (twice is even better). You can take a short walk, find some stairs, or, if you have an extensive telephone meeting, stand up while talking.
If you aren’t used to being active, start slow. Exercising too vigorously too suddenly can increase your risk of injury, strain, or extreme pain, all of which are major setbacks in your journey to your healthiest self. Start with 5-10 minutes per day and work your way up from there.
Finally, whatever you choose to do, choose something that you enjoy doing. Doing something you enjoy increases your chances of making a long-term health behavior.
Long term health behavior changes are the key to longevity and quality of life!