Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle. But you may be wondering how much exercise you need in a given week to reap the most benefits.
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According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the ideal training regimen balances cardiovascular work and strength training. Its guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes three days a week. Also, you should do strength training twice a week.
What this means in practice depends on your age. For example, him American Heart Association defines moderate-intensity physical activity as activity that increases the heart rate to between 50% and 70% of its maximum rate, while vigorous physical activity is approximately 70% to 85% of maximum rate. But your ideal target heart rate changes as you age. Twenty-somethings have a higher goal (100-170 beats per minute) than 50-year-olds (85-145 beats per minute). That means less intense exercise can still have a big impact as you age.
As you age, strength training also becomes more important for bone health. “You lose muscle mass as you age,” says orthopedic surgeon Ana Maria Chicorelli, DO. “And it’s important to recognize that. People ask me all the time: ‘Well, I walk every day. Is not sufficient? and I’ll say, ‘That’s great for your cardiovascular health, but it doesn’t do much for your strength.’ Strength training, weight training, and jogging are all high-impact activities that increase your bone health and lower your risk of fractures. And be sure to talk to your primary care provider before starting an exercise program.”
These impact activities also help you improve your balance—specifically, proprioceptive balance, or “knowing where you are in space and time,” says Dr. Chicorelli. “Improving proprioception goes hand in hand with strengthening to prevent falls.”
What counts as exercise?
Because exercise is all about moving your body, many activities count as exercise. “Gardening, dancing, any kind of cleaning around your house, mowing the lawn, raking leaves, shoveling snow, all of that is exercise,” says Dr. Chicorelli. “Doing laundry is also exercise because it’s lifting heavy weights.”
Strength training is also easily incorporated into your daily life. “Resistance bands, cans of corn, or soup—anything you can grab onto that increases your stamina is helpful,” notes Dr. Chicorelli. “That can be anything from pushing a chair while you’re doing something to picking up your child. If you are a parent, you can incorporate your child into your activities. Doing crunches with your child as weight, or any exercise where your child serves as resistance, can build strength and be good for bonding with your child.”
As with movement, you can also incorporate strength training into everyday activities you’re already doing. “If he’s doing the dishes, he can stand on one leg for 30 seconds and then turn off and stand on the other,” Dr. Chicorelli suggests. “That helps improve balance. And we know that balance is just as important as we get older.”
He adds that flexibility is another important component of exercise. In other words, sign up for that yoga or pilates class. “Yoga incorporates flexibility and stretching,” says Dr. Chicorelli. “As we get older, that’s important to keep our joints flexible.”
Luckily, there isn’t much to No counts as exercise. “If you think you’re exerting yourself, or if it feels like exercise, then yes, you’re probably doing something to get your heart rate up,” says Dr. Chicorelli. “And that’s still exercise.”
Making small changes in your daily activities can even count. Maybe you’re parking a little further away to go to the grocery store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. “Those are ways you can incorporate healthy activities into your life without being labeled as exercise,” he says. “But they are still good for your overall health.”
How to put together a training plan
Exercising looks different for everyone and depends on your exercise history. In fact, Dr. Chicorelli says that determining the best training plan involves first establishing a baseline of your previous physical activity. An exercise plan for someone who maybe took a few months off from the gym will look different than a plan for someone who has never exercised regularly.
You should also consider your goals and expectations for the training plan. For example, you might be looking to lose weight or gain muscle mass, or increase the distance you can run. “Based on those results, you should also look at any chronic health problems or other conditions you may have,” says Dr. Chicorelli.
Why is it important to exercise frequently?
Regular exercise is important because it helps you build strength, as well as strengthen specific areas of your body, including your bones and heart. “Better cardiovascular health helps lower blood pressure and decreases inflammation,” says Dr. Chicorelli. “Strengthening bones also helps with osteoporosis.”
Exercising brings cognitive benefits and also improves the health of your brain. “We forget that the brain is a muscle and that when we exercise it is good for our brain,” explains Dr. Chicorelli. “For example, we know that people who exercise live longer and have a lower risk of developing dementia.”
How to get the most out of your training
Sometimes if you have a busy week, you may only be able to get in 10 minutes of exercise a day instead of the normal 30 minute a day workouts several times a week. That’s perfectly fine, says Dr. Chicorelli, just increase your intensity.
“Researchers have done studies that say sometimes it’s even better if you can do higher-intensity exercises for short periods of time. If I jogged three times a day for 7-10 minutes, I would get more overall health benefits compared to walking for 30 minutes.”
Dr. Chicorelli says she is a “big believer” in the FITT principle, which stands for frequency, intensity, time and training. Viewing exercise through this principle can help you optimize her health. In fact, keeping these parameters in mind when you exercise can guide you toward more effective workouts.
Still, you may have questions about how often you should focus on specific muscle groups, including your legs, chest, abs, and biceps. “In general, it’s best to focus on one muscle group at a time,” advises Dr. Chicorelli. “So in every session, you’re supposed to do a core group.”
However, that is not a strict rule. “Be patient and do what is comfortable for you,” adds Dr. Chicorelli. “If you garden, you will work all your muscle groups. It’s still exercise.”
No matter what you choose to do, just make sure you don’t overdo it. “If you do too much, you’ll feel sore and you might get discouraged,” warns Dr. Chicorelli. “I tell my patients, ‘Be the tortoise, not the hare. Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t go too fast on anything. Build a good foundation so you are less likely to get injured while staying motivated.”
Perception also helps you stay motivated while exercising. Instead of telling yourself that you’re trying to lose weight, you can frame workouts while trying to get healthier.
“I see exercise as health,” says Dr. Chicorelli. “Exercise can feel like an overwhelming hurdle. If you see it as general health and healthy activities, you will find it easier to incorporate it into your lifestyle. Exercise often makes you feel like you need to put on a gym shirt or running shoes. Small changes in your daily activities can lead to positive health outcomes.”
And above all, never discount the power of positive thinking.
“When you say ‘I’m losing weight,’ ‘lose’ is a negative word,” says Dr. Chicorelli. “That’s in contrast to positive statements like, ‘I’m trying to eat healthier’ or ‘I’m trying to improve my health.’ If you see these things as positive, your perspective, and the things you need to do to achieve your goals, are also positive.”