We all want to stay healthy, but we often think we’re “too busy” with work and family to accommodate the recommended amount of exercise. So how much exercise do you really need?
The good news is that you don’t have to spend hours in the gym every week to stay healthy. Just a few minutes of exercise a day can help you stay healthy. While striving for minimum standards shouldn’t be part of a person’s long-term goal-attainment process, there are hints of what you can do when you have limited time each day.
Obviously, performance-based fitness goals differ from health-based fitness goals, although for most people these goals tend to overlap and lead to both better health and better physical performance.
Organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the Department of Health and Human Services follow the guidelines and recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week (20-30 minutes per day, 5-7 days per week). The term “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” means walking, biking, hiking, swimming, or using various cardio machines found at the gym.
However, even small amounts of exercise can have major health benefits if you cut the above recommendations in half. In fact, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity per week combined with muscle-strengthening activity at least twice per week can be just as effective as 150 minutes of moderate activity.
You have to work harder in these 75 minutes than in the easier 150 minutes. Research shows that the minimum effective exercise time per week can significantly reduce your risk of developing many chronic diseases and conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, and can also help improve cognitive function and mental health.
In addition, regular physical activity can help you do better on medical screening tests like cholesterol and glucose tests. The better your scores on these tests, the more likely you are to extend your life.
Another option for more physical activity
Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity (VILPA) is characterized by short bursts of physical activity throughout your daily life. For many of us who lead busy lives, VILPA may be more viable than structured, vigorous exercise and limited only by our imagination.
You can do quick one- to two-minute bursts of intense physical activity, such as B. Sprinting to the bus, running up a flight of stairs, doing bursts of household activities, and adding short runs to your walks. Three or four one-minute bursts of VILPA activity throughout the day can reduce the risk of premature death by 40%.
The same research also showed the following:
- Conducting just three or four one-minute VILPA sessions per day can reduce mortality from all causes and cancer by up to 40% and deaths from cardiovascular disease by up to 49%.
- Performing 11 bouts of VILPA per day was associated with a 65% reduction in cardiovascular risk of death and a 49% reduction in cancer-related death risk compared to no VILPA.
Many people struggle with keeping track of how much work they get done on any given day. Most people overestimate the work they think they are actually doing by twofold. You can check your activity with a pedometer, smartphone health features and apps, or activity monitor watches to get a more accurate daily physical activity amount that you actually accumulate every day.
For example, my personal daily physical activity, aside from morning workouts (gymnastics and weightlifting), consisted of walking my dog about two miles (5,000 steps) and walking to our local store, which is a mile away. The phone helps with this tracking and allows me to work as needed while I walk.
Even for the busy person, there are ways to help you fit some activity into your day. Another study by Nature Medicine compared those who did not engage in VILPA to those who engaged in VILPA three times a day (1-2 minutes each) and showed a 38%-40% reduction in all-cause and cancer mortality risk a 48%-49% reduction in mortality risk from cardiovascular disease. These results show that low amounts of vigorous physical activity without physical exercise are associated with significantly lower mortality.
It’s important to make sure you’re getting the recommended amount of exercise each week, whether that’s spending 30 minutes each day in the gym or accumulating 10-15 minutes of physical activity each day through living and moving, not just sitting. Don’t forget to schedule muscle-building activities and make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night. Sleep is our body and mind’s natural reset button, and a good night’s sleep is crucial to alleviating daily physical, mental, and emotional stress. By following these guidelines, you can help stay healthy and do better on medical checkups.
– Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness writer, certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook Store if you want to start an exercise program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected].
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