How Much Exercise Is Enough?

New guidelines from the Institute of Medicine that suggest an hour of exercise a day have some people abandoning the treadmill for the couch.

“People I know were more discouraged than encouraged, and these are people who exercise,” says Robyn Housemann, Ph.D., assistant professor of community health in the School of Public Health at Saint Louis University. “We have to get them off the couch in the first place before we tell them they have to exercise for an hour.”

Housemann says the new guidelines that suggest people exercise for 60 minutes a day are misleading.

“An hour a day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise will help you lose weight and become physically fit,” she says. “However, that’s not the same thing as being physically active to promote good health. You get a much better bang for your buck by exercising for 30 minutes to get the health benefits of a 50 percent risk of early mortality. Exercising another 30 minutes makes you more fit, reducing your risk an additional 10 to 15 percent. But you’re still doing well to workout for a half hour.”

Housemann quotes a study by the Cooper Institute that indicates taking 10,000 steps per your day will contribute to your health while taking 18,000 steps can help you lose weight. The goals are different. However these steps must include at least 30 minutes of activity performed at a moderate level of intensity, meaning you need to break a sweat and experiences increases in your heart rate and breathing.

So for those who simply want to become healthier, stick with the goal of exercising for 30 minutes a day and gradually build up to an hour per day, Housemann says. You can even spread out the activity periods, for instance walking briskly for 10-minutes three times a day.

Housemann suggests other strategies to work in working out:

– Schedule exercise as one of your daily activities, and don’t let anything else take priority.

– Use exercise as a stress management technique. Walk to clear your head and help you make sharp decisions.

– Having a friend, family member, co-worker or group to exercise with can also help you keep the “exercise habit” going because you’ve made a commitment.

– Exercise with your family. Involving children in your physical activity regimen is a great way to instill healthy habits and prevent childhood obesity.

– Look to your family for support. If necessary, ask for assistance with providing care for children or older adults so you can exercise.

– Track your progress by keeping an exercise log and recording your daily activity. Don’t be discouraged if you miss a day.

– Get a pedometer (step counter) and work toward accumulating 10,000 steps per day for health.

– Put physical activity back into your life by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away from building entrances, walking to the grocery store instead of driving, hiding the remote control to the television.

– Motivate yourself by remembering how good you feel after you’ve completed a workout and how good you feel knowing that you are taking care of yourself.

“We’ve got to get people who are not doing anything to do something. Even 20 minutes is a good start,” Housemann says. “By teaching people to set attainable goals, we are encouraging them to see exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

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