By Helaine Krasner, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN
This is the question we would all like to know the answer to. The word exercise can trigger some very unpleasant emotions. Memories of feeling awkward in gym class may come rushing back. The idea of sweating and exerting oneself may not seem very appealing. The very idea of exercising may feel like a punishment or chore. No one wants to feel forced into something they don’t want to do and don’t enjoy – even if we believe it will be good for our health.
What are the recommendations?
For substantial health benefits, adults should perform at least 150 – 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 – 150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or a combination of both. This should include muscle strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups (legs, hips, abdomen, back, shoulders and arms) at least two days a week. Examples of aerobic activities include walking, swimming, biking, and yardwork/housework. Muscle strengthening activities includes lifting weights and using resistance bands or body weight for resistance (ex. pushups, sit ups, strenuous gardening). At a moderate pace you can still carry on a conversation, but you are breathing harder than normal. At a vigorous level you may only be able to say a few words before needing to take a breath.
Where do these recommendations come from?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion released the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2018. This document contains evidence-based recommendations for every life stage and was developed by a panel of health experts after a thorough review of the current scientific literature on the relationship between physical activity and health.
What’s the difference between exercise and physical activity?
Notice that the guidelines do not use the word “exercise.” Although it’s important for our health that we engage in bodily movement, any movement is beneficial. Physical activity is anything that involves moving your body. Exercise is a type of physical activity that is planned, structured, and done for the purpose of improving fitness.
What else does the research show?
It’s never too late to start a new fitness routine. You’re never too old to gain benefits from aerobic activities or resistance training. In addition to weight management benefits, physical activity has been found to improve a wide range of health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and depression and even reduces risk of a wide variety of cancers. Other benefits include improved sleep, reduced stress, better ability to focus and better mood. Any amount of physical activity has been shown to improve health, even if it doesn’t reach recommended levels, and exceeding the recommendations continues to provide additional health benefits.
What can we do?
The evidence is clear. We do need physical activity, but we don’t have to call it exercise. Unfortunately, the modern world has created an environment that makes it challenging for most of us to achieve anything near the recommended amounts of physical activity. Only 53 percent of adults meet the minimum recommendation for aerobic activity and only 23 percent of adults meet the minimum recommendation for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Centuries ago, we didn’t need to find ways to make sure we were active. Now we do. The key is to engage in activities that you enjoy, to benefit your body and your soul.
How can I increase my motivation?
What if we change the way we think about movement? What if we view exercise as an opportunity to positively influence how we feel? What if we give ourselves permission to explore a variety of activities without expectations or rules? What if we let go of old memories that hold us back from embracing a new, more active version of ourselves?
Helaine Krasner, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who takes great pride in helping our Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients achieve their health and weight loss goals.