Most people want to get more active, but how much activity should people get every week? Does it make a difference if you get your activity through brisk walking versus doing a more intense activity? Health organizations like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, WHO and others offer specific guidelines for how much physical activity you should be getting. It turns out most people should hit the same minimum activity time, but this time also depends on the intensity of the activity.
Whether your goal is working up to 10,000 steps per day, reducing stubborn belly fat, or just getting the great health and wellness benefits from walking, it’s useful to know if you’re hitting the minimum requirements.
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How Much Exercise Should You be Doing?
The US DHS, as well as the WHO and other experts, suggest adults (age 18 to 64) should do “at least 150 minutes” of moderate physical activity per week. Adding an additional 150 minutes weekly (300 total) gives additional benefits. Alternatively, people can do a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity plus another 75 minutes (150 total) for maximum benefits.
Experts also recommend that aerobic activity should be spread across the week. For the 150 minute goal, most recommend 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week as a useful target. This leaves you rest and recovery days, while ensuring that you’re getting a useful cardio workout most days of the week. They also recommend adding strength training at least two days a week for additional health benefits.
Most People Aren’t Getting Enough
If you don’t feel you are getting enough exercise, you’re not alone. According to Stanford University, 80 percent of American adults are not meeting these goals, resulting in billions of dollars of healthcare costs. Additionally, chronic conditions affect nearly half of Americans and seven out of 10 of these conditions are “favorably influenced” by a regular physical fitness routine.
Why Should You Meet These Activity Goals?
Physical activity has been repeatedly proven to have multiple health benefits. Thankfully, it is not as difficult as one may think to work in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, even for those who are just beginning or who are considering starting an exercise regime.
Harvard Health reports that our hearts are trained to beat slower and stronger when we do physical activity. In addition, your DHL (the good) cholesterol increases, and our arteries “get springier.” These are not the only benefits to physical activity and physical benefits are not the only advantages of exercise.
Exercise burns calories. The more calories you burn walking, the easier it is to create a caloric deficit – which is how you can lose weight. Usually it also pays to eat healthier (it’s easier to drink an unhealthy soda than it is to walk it off!)
The National Sleep Foundation reports that exercise for individuals with chronic insomnia “significantly improved” their quality of sleep.
Improves Blood Sugar/Insulin Levels
According to the American Diabetes Association, exercise lowers blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after a workout.
Strengthens and Tones
Regular exercise helps strengthen and tone the muscles and keep them fit.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that individuals who are stressed benefit from exercise because of the way that physical activity releases endorphins in the brain. Here’s more information on the great mental health benefits of walking.
Improve Brain Function
Improve Sexual Health
With all of these benefits to physical fitness, it’s clear that we should strive to meet at least the minimum goals to reach and maintain our optimal health.
What Is “Moderate” Physical Activity?
Metabolic Equivalent Tasks (MET) is how experts measure physical activity. Essentially, it’s measuring the amount of energy a task takes. When sitting, we are using one MET. Conversely, if we are playing basketball, we are using more than six METs.
Moderate physical activity is considered to be any exercise or activity that comes in between three and six MET. They can vary from each individual based on their exercise history, age, weight, and health but these activities can include:
- Brisk Walking
- Heavy Cleaning
- Using a Push Mower
- Walking a Dog
During moderate-intensity physical activity, you burn three to six times as much energy as you do sitting down. Moderate-intensity exercise can be an ideal form of physical activity for individuals who are new to exercising, pregnant, or disabled.
What Is “Vigorous” Physical Activity?
Vigorous physical activity includes activities that are higher than six MET and are more intense. These activities include:
- Fast Bicycling
- Sports (Basketball, Soccer, Tennis, etc.)
Vigorous-intensity activities burn six times more than when sitting.
What About Intense Walking?
While brisk walking falls under the “moderate” category, some of the very intense walking activities fall somewhere in between moderate and vigorous. Walking stairs, for instance, burns more calories than brisk walking but isn’t quite as intense as fast bicycling or basketball. Incline walking is another more intense walking activity that falls somewhere in the middle.
When in doubt, it’s probably better to put your activity in the moderate-intensity category. More exercise is probably not going to be bad for you (if you have a health condition or if you’re doing extreme exercise, it definitely can be bad). Not getting enough exercise because you think you’ve hit your goals could be counterproductive. So when in doubt, just walk a bit longer!
Increasing Your Goals
Some individuals may find it daunting or even intimidating to launch a physical fitness routine but it’s not difficult to begin implementing small steps and gradually increasing your fitness goals. Instead of trying for 10,000 steps right away, try to add 1 mile or 2,000 steps (or even less).
The first thing to do is determine the most important benefits you want to reap from exercise. This provides you with the motivation to keep going. If you’re looking to exercise to lose weight, you can start by parking farther away from the door at a grocery store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Walking a little faster than usual is an easy way to increase the energy you’re burning and can serve to increase your endurance and physical tolerance. You can try something like power walking or light jogging to get more intense and get more steps.
Other Exercises (When You’re Not Walking)
Walking provides great benefits to both physical and mental health, but there are additional activities you can incorporate into your week to enhance these benefits. Here are just a few ideas for things to try, but don’t limit yourself to these only!
While group classes can be great, many of these activities can be done at home. You can find yoga or dance videos on YouTube or other sites. Do what works best for you!
Aerobics or Zumba
This type of rigorous exercise is fun and functional. Zumba combines music and dance, to stretch and tone your muscles and strengthen your core. Other courses focus on martial arts type moves, but the common theme is a fun, varied workout.
Experts suggest that lifting weights – either free lifting or on machines – just twice a week has multiple health benefits. It also helps build muscle and increase strength. Pacer’s bodyweight workouts are a great place to start! Swipe left on the home screen or click “Workouts” to find some. If you’re new to strength training, make sure to use proper form and start with the lowest weights possible. Find resources online on how to do the exercise properly, and see if you can find a trainer or expert to help check your form.
There are many different forms of martial arts, including karate, judo, jujitsu, kung fu, and taekwondo. Many gyms have classes that are more exercise-based and don’t involve actually fighting anyone. Martial arts classes can be a fun way to get your exercise in a way that doesn’t feel like work.
Yoga and Stretching
Yoga is a great way to improve flexibility and strength. This can help keep you limber, which can help you get more steps and avoid injury. Yoga also often has a meditative component which makes people feel calm and relaxed. While some forms of yoga can be fast-moving, intense exercise, many forms are not. You’ll still see some useful health benefits, even if you’re not getting a true cardio workout.
Whether you want to lose weight, reduce your risk of chronic heart conditions, or simply feel better, exercise is the ultimate way to achieve fantastic results with little to no investment and it all starts with just one step.
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