How much Exercise Do We Need to Stay Healthy?
The current guidelines recommend an hour or activity per day for teens and a total of an hour to two and a half-hours per week for adults to maintain good health. These guidelines provided by the Department of Health and Human Services have been disputed and debated by many. To add to the confusion, there have been recent studies that are showing conflicting information.
So how much should we exercise to stay fit and stay healthy?
There is no single answer that is appropriate for everyone. Everyone has a different combination of exercise habits, diet and rate of metabolism. Since these factors work together and rely on so many other personal factors, it is difficult to isolate one factor (exercise), and come up with an answer suitable for everyone.
Additionally, people have different personal fitness goals. And each reason may require a separate answer. Even just among the people that exercise for weight management, there can be a wide range of goals and their corresponding needs for exercise. Some people work out to lose weight, some to maintain weight and others want to gain weight.
Furthermore, studies have shown that men and women react differently to the metabolic effects of exercise. These biological differences also have to be taken into consideration. Age is another factor that should be considered. As we age, our ability to exercise may become compromised. Certain activities that were performed effortlessly in the past may be much more difficult now, and perhaps not possible anymore.
Instead of debating about which conflicting information is correct and which is not, we should narrow our focus on the basic principles that have remain unchanged:
Time Guidelines: Some people will tell you to work out for an hour each day or give you another figure. The amount of time you spend on exercising is less important than how much effort you put in during that time. A general guideline is that low intensity exercises take a longer time to provide benefits. And higher intensity workouts require less time to provide benefits. The most important point to remember is to stay active. Being sedentary is your worst enemy. Standing is better than sitting. A brisk walk is better than a slow walk. Running is better than jogging. Some is better than none, more is better than some, and too much is hard to get. If time is a factor (it is the most common constraint on exercising), you may need to exert greater amounts of energy into shorter time frames to accommodate your schedule. However, it must be noted that high intensity, short interval training is very difficult. Another point is that even very low-energy consuming activities can burn energy and accumulate throughout the day. In fact, low-intensity actions such as standing, etc., may contribute to daily energy expenditure without triggering hunger.
Intensity Guidelines: We hear about “light,” “moderate” and “vigorous” activity all the time. But we forget that these terms are subjective, and can have different meanings to different people. For example, an exercise that may seem vigorous to one person may seem moderate to another. The important thing to remember is to follow your own pace and to exert effort and push yourself within reasonable limits. Remember that you need to burn more energy than you consume if you are trying to lose weight. You can change the balance by increasing your energy usage (exercise), decreasing the amount of energy (calories) you consume, or a combination of both.
The Bottom Line:
It is pretty clear that each individual’s requirements of “how much,” and “what type” of exercise is necessary to achieve certain health benefits are personalized and therefore must be assessed on an individual basis. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to good health. There is no magic pill or a magic exercise program that will work by itself for everyone. Instead of trying to fit everyone’s needs into a one-size-fits-all answer, we should just look to basic principles of exercise. Regardless of the conflicting findings of the latest research, one thing remains unchanged: everyone needs a combination of sufficient exercise, proper intake of nutrients, and a healthy metabolism to absorb utilize the nutrients you consume. Exercise alone may not keep you healthy or help you shed pounds. It can be rendered useless by the eating habits of the individual. But it is a vital tool to manage and maintain your weight and health when proper nutrition is available. Some is better than none, more is better than some, and too much is hard to get.
When you get confused, simplify and use common sense.