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How Much Exercise Is Enough Exercise?

Most of us would agree that we want to be as healthy as we can. Thanks to a steady barrage of commentary by talking heads on television and articles by "experts" in weekend editions of newspapers and magazines, most of us are aware that enjoying good health has a lot to do with specific habits of nutrition and exercise. The big challenge is to find enough time in the day to do all the things required to fulfill these habits. Part of this challenge is actually being willing to find the time to get all these things done in addition to everything else we have to do. Sometimes, on certain days, it may not be possible to find the time required. But good health is obtained over months and years and what's needed is a long-term plan to achieve goals of healthy nutrition and regular, vigorous exercise. A critical starting point is knowing your basic needs, that is, knowing the minimum requirements for good health.1

Many studies have examined these minimum requirements, concluding that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, five days per week, is sufficient to obtain multiple health benefits. For example, both the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week.2 People who engage in such a consistent exercise program find that they're not only fitter and trimmer, but they are sleeping better, have increased concentration during the day, and have an improved outlook on life. Importantly, those who exercise regularly have a significantly decreased risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.3 The long-term impact of exercise on our health is profound.

But there's a disconnect. Everybody knows that exercise is important. But almost three-quarters of adults do not get enough physical activity to meet public health recommendations. The immediate result is that almost two-thirds of American adults are overweight and almost one-third are obese. Worldwide, more than 1.4 billion adults are overweight.

The missing link is personal motivation and the key action step is to get started. Exercise has a way of carrying you along. Once you begin and successfully fight the battle of inertia and lethargy to make it through a couple of weeks of consistent, vigorous exercise, you'll find that you want to do it again the next day. The struggle to find time seems to fade into the background as you become a person who exercises. You'll likely discover that your life is being transformed in numerous, wonderful ways.

Thirty minutes of exercise, five days a week, is the key. You can do more, of course, but meeting the minimum requirement is the main goal. The choice of exercise is up to you. There are no firm guidelines regarding what kinds of activities to do. For many a good approach is to mix and match, alternating cardiovascular days with strength training days. Cardiovascular exercise includes walking, running, swimming, cycling, and cross-country skiing. Similarly, strength training can be done in a variety of ways. Overall, there's no right formula to use in developing your personal exercise program - what works for you, works for you. What there is to focus on is getting it done - 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

1Li J, Siegrist J: Physical activity and risk of cardiovascular disease--a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Int J Environ Res Public Health 9(2): 391-407, 2012
2Haskell WL, et al. Physical Activity and Public Health. Updated Recommendations for Adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. American Heart Association, 2007.
3Golbidi S, Laher I: Exercise and the cardiovascular system. Cardiol Res Pract 2012, Article ID 210852, 15 pages doi:10.1155/2012/210852

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