We all strive to live a healthy lifestyle. From what you put into your body to how you manage your stress, these little decisions we make each day add up to a healthier, happier you. And one of the most important components of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is getting adequate exercise.
Why is exercise so important?
Living a healthy life starts with taking care of your body.
With more than 93 million Americans, or nearly 40 percent of the population, considered obese – obesity is a public health crisis. More than carrying around a few extra pounds, it is affecting the American quality of life and putting a strain on our health care system. Obesity increases one’s risk for health problems like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, some cancers, and more; these are serious conditions that can often lead to premature death. It’s because of this increased risk that Americans, as a whole, spend more than on $147 billion annually on obesity-related medical costs.
While exercise alone won’t cure obesity, it is an essential part of maintaining a healthy body weight and one’s overall health.
How much exercise do I need?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, adults should aim for 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. In general, moderate-intensity activities should increase your heart rate and breathing rate. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 50-70 percent of your maximum heart rate, while your breathing should be heavier but not so much that you’re unable to carry on a conversation.
If spending 2.5 to 5 hours a week exercising sounds intimidating, don’t worry! Physical activity doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. It may not even mean you work up a sweat. What it means is you’re noticeably pushing your body more than normal. The main goal is to increase the heart rate above your resting heart rate.
While some sources of moderate exercise may seem obvious:
- Walking at a brisk pace (3-4.5 mph)
- Roller skating, rollerblading or skateboarding
- Cycling with moderate effort (5-9 mph)
- Weight training and bodybuilding
- Swimming, Water Skiing or Surfing
- Canoeing, sailing, kayaking or rafting
Others are just part of everyday life:
- Gardening and yard work
- Moderate housework like cleaning out a garage or packing and unpacking boxes
- Putting away groceries
- Playing with the kids
- Carrying a child less than 50 lbs.
- Feeding farm animals
- General home repairs like roofing, painting or remodeling
Getting the recommended amount of exercise is imperative, but it shouldn’t be intimidating. While the idea is to push yourself, it’s important to start slow to avoid injury or exacerbating existing health conditions. Understanding the wide variety of sources of moderate-intensity activities, you’re never starting an exercise routine from scratch. Take what you currently do and gradually turn up the intensity or add on new tasks over weeks or months to let your body adjust.
One thing I encourage is that people consider a buddy system when working out, at least as you establish your exercise routine, so that you can keep each other motivated.
If you’re wanting to incorporate exercise into your life, but are afraid you can’t due to existing health conditions like low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, or arthritis, then working with a physical therapist can be a great start. Part of what I do at the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center is help people increase function and mobility to a level that they can push themselves to be more physically active.