Physical Activity: Use It or Lose It!

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In 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published the 2nd Edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The first edition was published in 2008. Every 10 years these recommendations are revisited to offer additions to the science behind the benefits to the human body from moving. Do you know what these recommendations are? Do you know how much to move and how often to do it to gain benefits to your health? Do you know which types of activities are beneficial for your health? This article provides some insight to these questions and more.

What is the recommended amount of time I should spend exercising?

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week; OR
  • At least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise per week, AND
  • Muscle strengthening activities of at least moderate intensity 2 or more days of the week.

What is included in aerobic exercise?

  • Any activity that increases your heart rate. Examples include riding a bike, swimming, jogging, brisk walking, and dancing.
  • You may have an active job that keeps you on your feet and moving. This movement would count towards your aerobic activity quota as long as it is challenging enough to increase your heart rate from its resting level.
  • You can check your resting heat rate by gently placing the first 2 fingers of one hand on your wrist near the thumb-side of your other hand. Count each beat for 60 seconds to find your resting heart rate in beats per minute.

How can I tell if my activity is moderate intensity or vigorous intensity?

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), moderate intensity means that you are working hard enough to make your heart beat faster, make your breathing heavier and make you sweat. You should still be able to carry on a conversation during moderate intensity exercise.
  • Doing vigorous intensity exercise means that your heart rate and breathing increase even more and if you can talk, you likely can’t say a whole sentence without pausing for a breath.
  • The Physical Activity Guidelines state that as a general rule 2 minutes of moderate intensity activity counts the same as 1 minute of vigorous intensity activity. This means you could exercise for 10 minutes at a moderate intensity or 5 minutes at a vigorous intensity.

What strengthening activities should I do?

  • Strengthening should include all major muscles groups of the body and can be done with weights like dumbbells or kettle bells, weight machines like pulleys, resistance bands, weighted vests, or body weight like when doing squats or push-ups.
  • Major muscle groups include muscles of the shoulders, chest, back, hips and knees.
  • To ensure that you are training your muscles to get stronger, choose the amount of weight you want to lift that you could only lift 8 to 10 times before you need to rest. Work up to being able to lift that amount for 2 to 3 sets at a time. When that becomes easy, then you know that it’s time to increase the amount of weight you should lift.

Are “exercise” and “physical activity” the same?

  • Even though these words are used interchangeably sometimes, it is important to remember two key details.  
  • First, once an activity is easy, it must be made more difficult to continue to offer health benefits.
  • Second, being an active person does not always mean that your activity level is intense or frequent enough to offer health benefits.
  • At some point, the activity or exercise you do will become routine. This is great since it means that you have an active lifestyle. If you don’t use it, you lose it, right? The downside to routine, recreational or habitual physical activity or exercise is that as your body becomes used to the intensity, you will no longer make improvements. You will maintain the gains you made, but you won’t get more aerobically fit or stronger without increasing the intensity when the routine gets too easy.
The bottom line is activity is good for your health.

What if I can’t meet the recommended amount of physical activity?

Many people don’t believe that they are capable of participating in physical activity and more than half of American adults have at least one chronic disease like arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It can be intimidating to know how to start an exercise program and may seem overwhelming to figure out how to incorporate 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity into your week. Inactivity is not. If you are unsure how to start or advance your routine, it may be beneficial to you to meet with your health care professional (i.e., physical therapist) for a program that is designed especially for you and your needs.  

The update to the Physical Activity Guidelines in 2018 suggests that if you are not active or exercising at least 150 minutes per week you should move as much as you can and replace sitting with non-sitting activities. In fact, any duration of activity can count towards meeting the 150-minute minimum. If you feel that you can move 5 minutes at a time, then this is a great way to start. Think of it as sitting 5 minutes less than you did yesterday!

If you or someone you love is struggling to get moving, we can help.

Our caregivers can support all levels of age and ability to live a more active and engaging lifestyle. Our goal is to help anyone age gracefully at home through, activity, safety and prevention, and connection.