Although there are no sure-fire recipes for good health, the mixture of healthy eating and regular exercise comes awfully close. Singing the praises of a good diet is a key part to good overall health. However, this article is where physical activity gets its due.
Regular exercise or physical activity helps many of the body’s systems function better, keeps heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other diseases at bay, and is a key ingredient for losing weight.
If exercise and regular physical activity benefit the body, a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite, increasing the chances of becoming overweight and developing a number of chronic diseases. Despite all the good things going for it, according to Statistics Canada, only 15 per cent of Canadians meet the minimum recommended amount of exercise for the week.
Physical Activity Guidelines: How Much Exercise Do You Need?
If you don’t currently exercise and aren’t very active during the day, any increase in exercise or physical activity is good for you. Aerobic physical activity—any activity that causes a noticeable increase in your heart rate—is especially beneficial for disease prevention. Some studies show that walking briskly for even one to two hours a week (15 to 20 minutes a day) starts to decrease the chances of having a heart attack or stroke, developing diabetes, or dying prematurely.
To lower your risk of injury, it’s best to spread out your activity over a few days in of the week.
You can combine moderate and vigorous exercise over the course of the week—say, by doing 20 to 25 minutes of more vigorous intensity activity on two days, and then doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on two days. It’s fine to break up your activity into smaller bursts, as long as you sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days for the week. Children should get at least 1 hour or more a day of physical activity in age-appropriate activities.
Exercise Intensity: What’s Moderate, What’s Vigorous?
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity is any activity that causes a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. One way to gauge moderate activity is with the “talk test”—exercising hard enough to break a sweat but not so hard you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation. Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity causes more rapid breathing and a greater increase in heart rate, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation—with shorter sentences.
Keep in mind that what feels like moderate activity for one person may actually be very vigorous activity for another: A typical young marathon runner, for example, could walk at a 4-mile-per-hour pace without breaking a sweat. But this same pace would likely feel very vigorous for the typical 90-year-old person.
Walking—and Bicycling—Your Way to Health
Walking is an ideal exercise for many people—it doesn’t require any special equipment, can be done any time, any place, and is generally very safe. What’s more, studies have demonstrated that this simple form of exercise substantially reduces the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes in different populations.
Though walking has health benefits at any pace, brisk walking (at least 3 miles per hour) is more beneficial than slow walking for weight control. And a recent report from the Nurses’ Health Study II suggests that bicycling offers similar benefits to brisk walking: Researchers followed more than 18,000 women for 16 years to study the relationship between changes in physical activity and weight. On average, women gained about 20 pounds over the course of the study. Women who increased their physical activity by 30 minutes per day gained less weight than women whose activity levels stayed steady. But the type of activity made a difference: Women who added bicycling or brisk walking to their activity regimens were able to curb their weight gain, but women who added slow walking were not.
Brisk walking may be challenging for some people, and bicycling (even on an exercise bike) may be a more comfortable option. If you don’t like brisk walking or bicycling, any activity that makes your heart work harder will help, as long as you do it long enough and often enough. Walking and biking are also green ways to commute to work—good for the environment, and good for you.
- Choose a variety of physical activities you enjoy. Try different activities until you find the ones that feel right for you.
- Get into a routine — go to the pool, hit the gym, join a spin class or set a regular run and do some planned exercise. Make it social by getting someone to join you.
- Limit the time you spend watching TV or sitting in front of a computer during leisure time.
- Move yourself — use active transportation to get places. Whenever you can, walk, bike, or run instead of taking the car.
- Spread your sessions of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity throughout the week. Do at least 10 minutes of physical activity at a time.
- Join a team — take part in sports and recreation activities in groups. You’ll make new friends and get active at the same time.
Live longer! Live healthier! Feel better!