The benefits of exercise - from preventing chronic health conditions to boosting confidence and self-esteem - are hard to ignore. And they are yours for the taking, regardless of age, sex or physical ability. But how do you know how much and what kind of exercises provides the benefits?
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, encourages Americans to "be active your way," with recommended exercise levels among a variety of physical activities. Here are the guidelines:
EXERCISE FOR ADULTS (ages 18 to 64)
Do 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity (such as brisk walking) or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as running) or an equivalent combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
These aerobic activities should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time, and it is best to spread them out throughout the week. 30 minutes, five times a week is the most-cited recommendation and meets the Guidelines.
(You can get even more health benefits by increasing to 5 hours/300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.)
What is moderate? A moderate level of activity noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate. You may sweat, but you are still able to carry on a conversation. You can talk, but you can't sing. It needs to be at least 10 minutes of continuous physical activity; an easy walk of less than 10 minutes doesn't count towards your total.
Examples of moderate level activities are brisk walking, easy jogging, walking or jogging on a treadmill, using an elliptical trainer, bike riding, swimming, water aerobics, ballroom or line dancing, softball/baseball, volleyball, doubles tennis, and gardening.
Vigorous physical activity substantially increases your heart rate; you are breathing rapidly, only able to speak in short phrases, and are likely to be sweating. These activities include running, cycling or swimming at an intense level.
2 or More Days a Week
To improve muscular strength and endurance, body composition, and flexibility, a well- rounded program of resistance or strength training is also recommended.
Strength exercises build muscles and increase your metabolism, which helps to keep your weight and blood sugar in check. Strength training exercises have you lift, push or pull to increase muscle strength and endurance. Activities include lifting weights, using resistance bands or resistance machines; chair exercises; carrying laundry or groceries; and washing the car or floors.
General stretching exercises involving the major muscle and tendon groups can also help maintain range-of-motion in joints and overall flexibility. Yoga and tai chi are included in this category.
EXERCISE FOR OLDER ADULTS (ages 65 and older)
• Follow the adult guidelines.
• Do exercises that maintain or improve balance if you are at risk of falls.
• If you have a chronic condition that makes exercise difficult, do as much as you can manage to do and avoid inactivity.
Those over age 65 may need longer periods of time to adapt to an exercise program, but both healthy and frail elderly individuals can make significant increases in strength and muscle mass through resistance and strength training.
By including flexibility training - such as stretching exercises or tai chi - in their exercise programs, elderly adults can offset the naturally occurring muscle and skeletal changes that significantly impair daily life. Flexibility exercises can improve range of motion and function of joints, and can also be key in preventing musculoskeletal injuries.
General Guidelines for Starting
If.... You do not currently engage in regular physical activity
Then...you should begin by incorporating a few minutes of physical activity into each day, gradually building up to 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activities.
If....You are now active, but at less than the recommended levels
Then...you should strive to adopt more consistent activity:
• moderate-intensity physical activity for 30 minutes or more on 5 or more days of the week, or
• vigorous-intensity physical activity for 20 minutes or more on 3 or more days of the week.
If....You currently engage in moderate-intensity activities for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days of the week,
Then...you may achieve even greater health benefits by increasing the time spent or intensity of those activities.
If....You currently regularly engage in vigorous-intensity activities 20 minutes or more on 3 or more days of the week,
Then...you should continue to do so.
If you have a diagnosed chronic condition or symptoms, such as chest pain, dizziness or joint pain consult your doctor about starting an exercise program. In general, especially for those who have musculoskeletal pain or stiffness, some activity is better than no activity.
You can help your body fight disease and stay on the pathway to healing through consistent exercise, as outlined above. The exercise you get, or fail to get, directly affects your body – the temple of the Holy Spirit.