Get Moving Monday: Are You Getting Enough Exercise??

Are you really getting enough exercise?

Harvard Women’s Health Watch

To get the full benefit of your workout, you need to know how hard you’re exercising, and that can be different for everyone.

The national exercise guidelines are pretty general. They recommend 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days and strength training on two to three days each week. But what does this mean to you as an individual? As it turns out, fulfilling the exercise requirements may depend on several things, including your age, resting heart rate, muscle strength, and present level of conditioning.

What is exercise?

Dr. Howard Knuttgen, research associate in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, says that having a full understanding of what you’re doing when you exercise is important. He defines exercise as any activity requiring you to generate force by using your muscles. The more force you exert, the more exercise you get. In general, aerobic, or cardiovascular, workouts call for moving your body (for instance, by walking, running, cycling, rowing, or swimming), and strength-building workouts involve moving an object (for instance, by lifting weights or using resistance machines).

Getting enough aerobic exercise

Two keys to cardiovascular conditioning are intensity and amount. Exercise shouldn’t be effortless, but it shouldn’t bring you to the brink of collapse.

Intensity. The guidelines suggest brisk exercise, but what does that mean? A brisk clip for some people can be a snail’s pace for others. Fortunately, your body offers some clues. The most commonly suggested measure is whether or not you can carry on a conversation while you are walking or running. If you can’t, you’re probably exercising too strenuously to keep going for 30 minutes and should slow down. But if you can sing, you probably need to step up your pace.

Duration. Recently, high-intensity workouts as brief as four to seven minutes have been promoted as a way to keep fit. Dr. Knuttgen is very skeptical. He has a file of articles and ads promoting exercise regimens that offer to keep you fit with little investment of either time or effort. “This is exercise quackery. If a program sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he says. The same goes for skimping on the number of weekly sessions. “Exercising once a week won’t contribute much to your fitness; two weekly sessions should have considerable value; but three are desirable,” he advises. “A greater number of exercise sessions per week should provide even greater benefit.”

Making strength training count

The national guidelines for strength training are less precise because individual goals can vary depending on whether you need stronger arms, legs, or core muscles. The effectiveness of strength training for any muscle group is based on the amount of weight you lift and the number of times you lift it before fatigue, also known as the repetition maximum (RM), sets in. “If you can lift a weight 20 or 30 times without any problem, you’re not building much strength,” Dr. Knuttgen says. He advises aiming for five to 15 repetitions as your RM and doing two to four sets of each exercise, resting between sets. Once you can do five to 15 repetitions easily, it’s time to add more weight.

It may save you time and money to go to a fitness facility to get started on an exercise program. A certified trainer at a good exercise facility can help you assess where you need to build strength and teach you how to use the equipment to help you achieve it. Moreover, the equipment at a gym has several advantages:

  • Most machines have safety devices.
  • The machines are designed to help you maintain the right form while exercising.
  • The equipment makes it easy to add weight or resistance as you progress.
  • Most machines are designed to vary the weight lifted throughout the range of motion of an exercise so that the challenge to the muscle remains optimal.

These days, gym membership isn’t only for the young or elite. Many health plans subsidize membership in a fitness club, “Y,” or gym, and these facilities often have membership discounts for seniors. You may also want to consider joining a women-only gym if you’re shy about exercising or sweating in public.

Finding the time

The hardest part of exercise is probably finding the time to do it adequately. Consider alternating between walking and strength training, walking briskly to the gym on days you do strength training, or trading 30 minutes of television for 30 minutes of exercise.

In order to turn an exercise routine into a habit, researchers from Iowa State focused on these fitness cues—for example, a morning alarm—to see how they affected exercise frequency. The study, published in Health Psychology, looked at 123 healthy adults between 18- and 73-years-old, and tracked how often they exercised over one month. They asked participants to rate strengths of their “exercise instigation” and “execution habit.” Instigation referred to the decision to begin exercising, while execution referred to the actual exercise routine.

“Regardless of the type of exercise you’re going to do on a particular day, if you have an instigation habit, you’ll start exercising without having to think a lot about it or consider the pros and cons,” says Alison Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State and one of the study’s authors. The study also noted that internal habits are the strongest—such as a mental need to exercise after staring at a computer all day—but are more difficult to teach.

Whatever your instigation cue, the research suggests that developing a regular habit that triggers you to get moving might be more important than following a set exercise routine. So, instead of focusing on a pattern at the gym, try to find a habitual way to cue to yourself that it’s time to exercise—be it a morning alarm, or bringing gym clothes to work so you know to head to the gym once 5 p.m. rolls around.

“The current study’s results are hopeful in that they suggest, once someone has an instigation habit, he or she can vary the particular exercises without worrying about quitting regular exercise,” Phillips said in an email.


Let’s Get Physical: 25 Easy Ways to Get in More Steps Everyday

So you’ve heard it a million times: Walk more! Aim for 10,000 steps a day! But taking the stairs instead of the elevator will only get you so far. Steal a few of these fresh tips to help you rack up your mileage. 

1. Pace the room while waiting at the doctor’s office.

2. Grocery shopping? Make an extra tour around the perimeter aisles before checking out.

3. Use the restroom one floor down (or up) at work instead of heading for the one just down the hall.

4. Ditto with your coffee.

5. Hide the remote so you have to actually get up to change the channel. Better yet, turn off the TV.

6. Instead of fighting other drivers for that single open spot near the door, do your blood pressure a favor and park several rows away.

7. Walk around the block while your kid is taking dance class/playing soccer/whatever.

8. Get off the bus or subway one stop early.

9. March in place while brushing your teeth (go ahead and shut the door first if you’d like).

10. Going to the mailbox? Take a tour around the house first—then take the time to say hello to that chatty neighbor who flags you down.

11. Hoof it to the store when you’re only buying a few easy-to-carry items.

12. Walk over to your coworker’s desk instead of e-mailing her.

13. Make it a nightly habit to go for an after-dinner stroll with the family.

14. Early for an appointment? Walk around the block instead of adding to your interminable time in the waiting room.

15. Take a daily afternoon “brainstorming” walk.

16. Wander the room while chatting on the phone.

17. Walk your child to school instead of waiting in the endless carpool line.

18. Instead of cooping yourself and your coworkers up in a stuffy conference room, make your next meeting a walking one.

19. Headed to the mall? Stroll the length of it once before you start buying—and scout the sales while you’re at it.

20. Set the alarm on your computer to go off every hour or two, then take a quick tour around the floor (or even just a trip up and down the hall) when it does.

21. Next time you have to run a couple of errands, park midway between your destinations and walk to them both. In between, pause to leave the dry cleaning in the car before strolling over to pick up your best friend’s birthday gift.

22. Leave the stilettos in the closet and charm your hubby (or boyfriend) into taking a moonlit walk after dinner at your favorite restaurant.

23. Tell yourself that you’re allergic to escalators and act accordingly.

24. Instead of getting together with the girls for a stay-put meal, plan an evening of window-shopping or an afternoon of new-neighborhood scouting.

25. Whenever possible (and safe), take the scenic route!


Get Moving Monday: Walking Is Great Exercise!

It’s a gentle, low-impact form of exercise that’s free, easy and suitable for people of all ages and most abilities. Here is why it is so good for you:

1. It strengthens your heart

Regular walking has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It lowers levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and keeps blood pressure in check.”Anything that raises your heart rate and gets your blood pumping is a workout for your heart and circulatory system,” says personal trainer Stuart Amory. According to the Stroke Association, walking briskly for up to 30 minutes can help prevent and control the high blood pressure that can cause strokes – reducing your risk by up to 27 per cent.

2. It lowers disease risk

As well as heart disease, a walking habit can slash your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, asthma and some cancers. A study in the British Medical Journal showed taking more steps every day can help ward off diabetes. And according to the charity Walking For Health, regular exercise such as walking could reduce risk by up to 60 per cent. Those of us who are active have around a 20 per cent lower risk of developing cancer of the colon, breast and womb than those least active.

3. It keeps weight in check

“If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to burn about 600 calories a day more than you’re eating,” says Amory. “Putting one foot in front of the other is one of the easiest ways to do that.” A person weighing 60kg burns 75 calories simply by strolling at 2mph for 30 minutes. Increase that to 3mph and they’ll burn 99 calories. Speed it up to a fast walk (4mph) and that’s 150 calories – the equivalent of three Jaffa Cakes or a jam doughnut. “Walking also increases muscle mass and tone and the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism – so the more calories you burn, even at rest,” he adds.

4. It can help prevent dementia

Dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six over 80. We know being active has a protective effect on brain function and regular exercise reduces dementia risk by up to 40 per cent. And, according to Age UK, older people who walk six miles or more per week could avoid brain shrinkage and so preserve memory as the years pass.

5. …and osteoporosis, too

“Walking counts as a weight-bearing activity,” says Amory. “It stimulates and strengthens bones, increasing their density – really important, especially for women. It also helps maintain healthy joints so may stave off conditions such as arthritis.”

6. It tones your legs, bum – and tum

A good walk can help strengthen and shape your legs, giving great definition to calves, quads, hamstrings and lifting your glutes (buttock muscles) – especially if you add hills. But if you really pay attention to your posture as you walk, it can tone your abs and whittle your waist, too.

Fitness expert Joanna Hall is founder of the Walkactive method of ‘conscious’ walking for better posture and overall fitness results. She says: “Think about lengthening up through your spine to create space between your earlobes and shoulders. Relax your shoulders, pull in your tummy and pelvic floor and imagine you have a cup of water balanced on top of each hip bone that you don’t want to spill. As you walk with this posture, your shoulders will naturally rotate and this works your oblique abdominal muscles – you’ll be taking inches off your waist with every step.”

7. Let’s not forget your arms

“Your speed when walking comes from your arms,” says Hall. “Hold them at a comfortable level, bent at the elbow, and swing them backwards and forwards as you walk. Swing them faster and you’ll automatically speed up. And all this movement tones your arms, shoulders and upper back.” Bye bye, bingo wings!

8. It boosts your vitamin D levels

If you’re walking outside in daylight, you’ll be boosting your body’s stores of vitamin D – a nutrient that’s hard to get from food, but that we can synthesize from exposure to sunlight. Many people in the UK are deficient in vitamin D and it’s a nutrient that plays a big role in everything from bone health to immunity. While sun safety is still important, experts agree that exposing as much skin as you can to the sun, little and often and without burning, will help you to produce sufficient vitamin D.

9. It gives you energy

It might seem like a paradox (and the last thing you might feel like) but a brisk walk is one of the best natural energizers around. It boosts circulation and increases oxygen supply to each and every cell in your body, helping you to feel more alert and alive. It wakes up stiff joints and eases muscle tension so you feel less sluggish. Always have a mid-afternoon energy slump at work? Head out for a walk at lunchtime instead of sitting in a café or at your desk and see what a difference it makes.

10. It makes you happy

The ability of exercise to boost mood is undisputed. Studies have shown regular, moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) to be as effective as antidepressants in cases of mild to moderate depression. Getting active releases feel-good endorphins into the bloodstream, reducing stress and anxiety. And don’t forget it’s often a social activity – joining a walking group or meeting friends to walk and chat is a great way to banish feelings of isolation and loneliness. A survey by the charity Mind found 83 per cent of people with mental health issues look to exercise to help lift their mood. For greatest benefit, they say, get active outdoors and somewhere green.