In a previous blog (How much exercise do I need to do?) I talked about the guidelines for physical activity that recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of activity. Meeting these guidelines is associated with improved health and lower risk for disease, but keep in mind that this is the minimal recommendation. If you look more closely at the World Health Organization’s recommendations they go on to state: For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent. This is double the recommended minimum.
So how does one go about increasing his/her activity to 40-60 minutes per day? One concern that people have is thinking they don’t have enough time to fit in activity and exercise. This isn’t the case for many of us, and as discussed here there are plenty of ways to fit in activity into our daily lives. For example, taking the stairs is often faster than waiting for an elevator to take you two to three floors up or down. Parking in the first spot you find will usually get you where you want to go faster than driving around looking for the closest spot. In the office, you can go on walking meetings (most meetings of 2-3 people don’t require sitting down around a table). These small steps will add up to increase your activity.
When you’re increasing your activity, let’s say from 30 minutes most days to 60 minutes most days, don’t do it all at once; do it gradually over a few weeks. A good rule of thumb is to increase your volume (this could be total time, distance, steps, etc.) of activity by no more than 10% per week. This helps to ensure you don’t do too much too soon, and is especially true for weight bearing activities like jogging and running. That being said, if you’re doing low intensity activity (light walking) you might be okay with increasing your volume by more than 10% per week.
You may also wish to consider adding in different types of activity. This is a great way to make sure you involve all muscles in your routine such as doing an activity using your legs like walking or jogging one day and then swimming or rowing the next, or even gardening or washing the windows in your home. As my group has recently shown, it doesn’t matter what type of activity it is, as long as it’s activity. This also adds variety to your routine and helps prevent boredom.
If your goal is to be active for 60 minutes on most days, this can be an average, such that you do activity for 30 minutes one day and 90 minutes another. There can be numerous reasons why some people would want to do this. You may have more time one day or another, or you may be training for a long running event and need to get in extra running. In either case, you may need to go easier on the day after your long activity session.
At all times throughout your activity and exercise program, you need to listen to your body. It will tell you if you are doing too much and need to rest. After increasing your activity, you may feel sore or stiff. This is common and it just means your body needs some rest. Rest doesn’t mean doing nothing though. For example, if your legs are sore or stiff, doing something like a light walk or bicycle ride, or gentle stretching can help you recover faster and loosen up.
If you’re happy and comfortable doing 60 minutes of activity on most days and want to do more- go ahead. Just follow the guidelines outlined above. Remember, by being active, you’re improving your health, reducing your risk for disease and having fun.
In the next blog I will discuss if you can do too much exercise.
This is Part 10 in a series of blog posts entitled Being Active While Living an Active Life.