Since May is Physical Fitness and Sports Month, let’s answer some questions.
Am I getting enough exercise? According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 20 percent of Americans meet the aerobic and muscle strengthening components of the federal government’s Physical Activity Guidelines. It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of either: (1) 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, (2) 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, or (3) an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity. For even greater health benefits or for weight loss, it is recommended to increase moderate-intensity aerobic activity to 300 minutes each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity to 150 minutes each week. Lastly, it is recommended that everyone do muscle strengthening activities such as lifting weights or using resistance bands at a moderate or high intensity involving all major muscle groups at least two days a week.
Am I doing the right kind of exercise? I know a lot of people who meet the aerobic activity guidelines, but less who make time for strength training. Yet strength training helps you improve your balance, strengthen your bones, maintain your weight, boost your energy, improve your mood, prevent diseases such as diabetes and osteoporosis, and burn more calories throughout the day.
Why is it so hard to exercise? I think people either don’t have enough time, don’t make it a priority, or don’t enjoy it. Certainly there are other reasons besides these, but let’s take a closer look at these three:
1. Not enough time
If you don’t have time for exercise, consider keeping a log of all of your activities for a couple of days. When people actually track how they spend every minute of their time, they often find spaces where they could fit in exercise. Are you spending time at night watching TV or perusing social media? Is this really more important than your health? Could you go to bed earlier so that you can fit in a quick morning workout or pack a lunch and use part of your lunch break to take a walk? Could you park a few blocks away when running errands, and walk briskly to your destination?
If it’s difficult to find a large block of time in your day, you might try doing 10 minutes of activity three times a day. For example, you might do 10 minutes of weight lifting in the morning, 10 minutes of walking at noon, and 10 minutes on a family bike ride in the evening. You will get the same health benefits as one 30 minute session. Also, consider how you spend your leisure time. Go hiking with friends instead of meeting for coffee. Play sports with your kids instead of going to a movie. If it truly is a priority for you, then you can find the time. Plan in advance when you will be active, schedule it like an appointment, and keep your appointment.
2. Not a priority
It takes time to experience the health benefits of exercise, so it may seem like it’s really not that important. But exercise offers loads of health benefits to the young, old, and in-between like me. Children and teens need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity daily, and only about 25 percent of teens meet these guidelines. Physical activity in youth increases muscle mass, capacity for learning, self-esteem, and may even help kids deal better with stress.
These benefits aren’t limited to the young. They span every age group. People begin losing muscle cells in their thirties. This decrease in muscle mass leads to a slower metabolism, and often, weight gain. By the time old-age hits, people may have lost up to 30 percent of their muscle, which is apparent through reductions in strength and ability to perform activities that were once easy. The good news is that numerous studies have shown that exercise helps muscle cells get bigger and stronger, even among people in their 80s. This helps fight age-related weight gain as well as defending against arthritis and inflammation. Regular exercise also enhances the immunity, boosts longevity and cardiovascular health, and helps to prevent many chronic diseases.
3. Don’t enjoy it
Exercise is one of those things, like drinking low-fat milk or eating your vegetables, which you may have to get in the habit of doing before you start to like it. Just like our taste buds adapt and begin to prefer the foods we eat most often, it takes time for our body to adapt to exercise. Over the years, countless people have told me that once they developed the habit of exercise, they didn’t feel right without it. They could tell when their body was craving a walk or a good hard work out. But if you are just beginning an exercise routine, ease into it slowly. Occasionally, I run into people who have done nothing for years and suddenly go out and run a few miles or try to lift the same amount of weight they lifted in college. Usually this ends in injuries or so much pain that they associate exercise with misery. But exercise can be fun if you find something you like to do, and commit to doing it moderately and consistently.
Is there such a thing as too much exercise?
There’s no doubt that most people don’t get enough exercise and would benefit from doing more. However, recent research suggests there may be such a thing as too much exercise. A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that runners who ran for more than three days a week and four hours a week had nearly the same risk of dying as those who were sedentary over a 12-year follow-up. According to the study, both too little running and too much running are linked to higher rates of death. Another study published in the journal, Heart, found that people who did the most strenuous daily activity were more likely to die of a heart attack than more moderate exercisers. Chronic high intensity endurance athletes such as marathoners, ultra-marathoners, distance triathlons, and very long distance bicycle racers may experience hardening of heart cells, stiffening of their blood vessels, and decreases in antioxidant levels. As new research develops, I am curious to find out if physical activity guidelines will be changed to emphasize moderate over vigorous exercise or to include an upper limit on how much exercise is good for health.