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Physical Wellness: How Much Should I Exercise?

Our “Journey to a Healthier You” series continues this month with a deeper look at physical wellness and how time factors into exercise. Exercise is an integral part of being physically well. The benefits of exercise go beyond our appearance – they also extend inward to our overall health and well-being.

Physical wellness is defined as the ability to achieve and maintain a healthy quality of life and have enough energy to be productive in our daily activities both at work and outside of work. Optimal physical wellness can be achieved by adopting health-enhancing habits and avoiding destructive ones. As your physical wellness improves, you will become more familiar with your body’s vital signs and warning symptoms, how your body reacts and performs based on what you do (and what you don’t do) and what your body craves.

Exercise has been proven to lower stress levels, improve cardiovascular health, improve bone density and lower cancer risk. People who consistently exercise experience less chronic pain, better sleep, improved brain function and a stronger immune system. So now that we have established exercise is good for us, how much should we do?

How much should I exercise per week?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following weekly recommendation for adults (both young and old alike):

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR
  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity OR
  • A combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity AND
  • At least two sessions of moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity

For even greater health benefits, adults should aim to do the following each week:

  • 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR
  • 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity OR
  • A combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity AND
  • More than two sessions of moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity

What is moderate-intensity aerobic activity?

Light jogging, leisurely bike riding and walking are all examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities. These activities get your blood pumping but you are still able to hold a light conversation. Choose to do these activities when you are either just starting to exercise or coming back from a break in activity.

What is vigorous-intensity aerobic activity?

Sports like basketball, football and soccer, running, hiking, swimming and interval training all require more from your body than moderate-intensity aerobic activities and result in an increased heart rate and breath rate.

What is muscle-strengthening activity?

Activities that work the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulder, arms). This includes weight lifting (chest press, shoulder press, bicep curl, leg press) and bodyweight exercises (crunches, lunges, wall sits, planks, burpees). After you become familiar with muscle-strengthening activities, try adding different types of equipment into your routine for an added challenge, such as resistance bands and tubes, BOSU balls, stability balls and medicine balls.

What if I’m just starting out?

If you’re just starting out, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity each week may be a huge departure from your normal routine. And that’s okay. Start slow and always talk with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.

You can break up aerobic activity into 10 minute increments throughout the day or start with 10 minutes at a time. You may not be ready to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) quite yet (or ever), but start with alternating walking for one minute and jogging for one minute until you reach a total of 10 minutes. Next time, aim for 12 minutes.

Avoid being overzealous with muscle-strengthening activity and attempting a whole body weightlifting routine right away. Start with two muscle groups and make sure they are opposite or complementary muscle groups. For example, do bicep curls and tricep extensions on the same day (opposite muscle groups) or do tricep extensions and chest presses together (complementary muscle groups).

Bottom line: You don’t need to be a marathon runner or weightlifting champion to be physically well; engaging in consistent aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities over time will contribute to an improved sense of physical wellness.

[Emily Smith is the Health Promotion Division’s Senior Benefit & Wellness Specialist.]

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