Some people exercise by spending an hour in the pool every day, while others might take just 15 minutes for a HIIT workout a couple of times a week, making it hard to know how much exercise is right for you.
Knowing exactly how much exercise a person needs is a complex problem and involves a number of variables, including health status and personal goals. Truthfully, the answer really comes down to this: Some exercise is better than none, and more exercise is usually better than some.
In other words, if you aren’t exercising at all, incorporating even just a few minutes of movement into your daily routine can yield important health benefits. And, if you are not exercising as consistently as you’d like, adding more exercise to your routine will typically increase those health benefits.
Health Benefits of Exercise
It’s important to note that these suggestions involve health benefits only, not the fitness gains or performance benefits that may come with more structured and intense exercise. Also, the benefits are greater for those who add exercise to a previously sedentary lifestyle.
If you are currently performing little or no exercise, adding short bouts of simple movement to your day can drive more dramatic results. If you add more exercise to an already active lifestyle, you won’t see as dramatic of a benefit as someone who has been living a sedentary lifestyle.
The health benefits that come from exercise are important and far-reaching, including helping prevent dementia, depression, hypertension and diabetes. They also include reductions in the risk of death from heart disease, cancer and all other causes.
Yes, you read that right: all other causes. Research into what is called “all-cause mortality risk,” meaning a person’s risk of dying for any reason, revealed that people who were somewhat active had a 30% lower risk of dying than those who were inactive. And that percentage climbed as people performed more physical activity.
As you can see, the stakes are high, so let’s explore what just a little movement can do for you.
Exercise Guidelines: How Much?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the World Health Organization, adults should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardiorespiratory activity, or some combination of the two, each week. If you can talk comfortably, but not sing, while exercising, you are working at a moderate intensity. If you cannot say more than a few words without needing to take a breath, you are working at a vigorous intensity.
In addition, they recommend adults perform muscle-strengthening activities twice each week.
For most people, however, these guidelines represent long-term goals rather than a starting point. If you are new to exercise or are currently less active than those guidelines suggest, your goal should be to do more than you’re currently doing and then progress slowly until you reach those activity thresholds and beyond.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sums it up perfectly: Move more and sit less.
Benefits of Short Bouts of Exercise
When you perform exercise, physiological changes occur very quickly. Some of these changes include increased blood flow and an improved ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, these changes can help ward off life-threatening illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Short bouts of exercise can also improve a person’s mood, improve their mental well-being, decrease stress and improve the quality of their sleep. And, these benefits are enhanced if the movement takes place outdoors. Exercising outdoors increases our exposure to sunlight enhancing vitamin D production, which has been linked to improving mood, promoting bone health, boosting immune system function and reducing inflammation.
If your job requires that you sit at a desk for eight hours each day, interrupting that sedentary time is vital to good health. Research has shown that five minutes of movement per hour or 10 minutes every two hours is enough to counter the effects of prolonged sitting and positively impact a person’s health. Importantly, these short breaks don’t have to include high-intensity exercise. Something as simple as folding laundry, walking at 2 mph or washing dishes is enough to counter the negative effects of sitting. Here are some simple ideas for adding movement to your workday:
- Choose to move during the workday. Rather than calling or emailing a coworker, walk over their desk to chat.
- Park a few blocks from your office. This way, you get a short walk in before and after work.
- Set a reminder to move. Once every hour or so, stand up and move or stretch for a few minutes.
- Stand up and walk around. Try this out while talking on the phone or host standing or walking meetings.
- Sit on a stability ball rather than an office chair. This will keep your core engaged and improve your posture.
- Work at a standing desk. Simply standing rather than sitting may lower your risk of weight gain and other inactivity-related conditions.
Getting Started With Activity
Last year, the CDC Foundation launched a campaign called Live to the Beat, which is a national initiative aimed at reducing or preventing cardiovascular disease in the Black community, which sees an increased risk of heart disease and stroke as compared to their white counterparts. The focus of the campaign is on moving more, eating better, quitting smoking and addressing key risk factors like hypertension, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.
Of course, people of any race or ethnicity will benefit from making those changes. When it comes to moving more, Live to the Beat recommends thinking beyond the gym by walking, jogging or cycling in your community or at a local track, following along with online workout videos or even simply dancing around the house.
It’s also important to make physical activity work with your schedule rather than trying to force it into your routine. Try doing some squats or jumping jacks during commercials while watching TV. You can also perform active chores, like yardwork or walking your dog.
Planning ahead and tracking your progress can be motivating for some people, and there are many fitness apps that can help you keep a log of how far you walk each day and even remind you to move.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, find activities you enjoy. If it feels like a chore, you’ll probably try to avoid it. Playing sports or games with your children or grandchildren, joining a walking group or meeting up with a friend to exercise are great ways to make things fun and add some social support, which can increase the chances you’ll keep moving over the long haul.
Remember, if you’re currently doing little to no exercise, adding just a little movement can make a big difference to your health. So, don’t be intimidated by the exercise guidelines or anything else that makes you feel like you’re not doing enough. The best thing you can do is move as much as you can today, and then build from there.