How Often Should You Exercise? September 5, 2008

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Nobody can doubt that physical activity is important because of the related health benefits (cardio-respiratory function, blood pressure control, weight management, cognitive and emotional benefits). If you catch the exercise bug, you can become addicted to the good feeling you have after a workout. You might also like the way you fit into your jeans, too. This can lead to a daily workout to get that good feeling.

But, is daily exercise too much exercise? Thirty-seven percent of adults report they are not physically active. Only three in ten adults get the recommended amount of exercise. Most people are not exercising enough. About 70 percent need to add more physical activity to their daily lives. How much is enough?

What is Lost Over Time

Research indicates that adults lose a significant amount of flexibility as they age. After age 40 and accelerating after 50, balance and muscle mass are also lost. Post-menopausal women can lose 1-2 percent of their bone mass annually. The average person over the age of 70 may have experienced muscle loss as high as 15 percent per decade. The result of these types of loss can lead to falls which cause broken bones and fractures. "Flexibility decreases with age, as does strength, balance, and endurance. But all these can be reversed by daily exercise," says Desirae Pierce, Breath and Body Yoga.

A previous GoodHealth.com article pointed out that a well-round exercise program must include aerobic, muscular or strength and flexibility workouts to form a balanced approach to fitness and exercise. "Variety is good for an exercise program," says Mark Langendorf, Exercise Specialist Cardiac Rehabilitation, Seton Medical Center - Williamson. "It's the job of the trainer to educate others that there are other components to fitness than just one routine. Many times runners, rather than piling up huge amounts of mileage, will be asked to cross train. Cross training is a means of changing the routine to work the same muscles in a different way or to work completely different sets of muscles.

How Much Exercise?

About 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity is needed to prevent weight gain. For those who have lost weight, at least 60 to 90 minutes a day is needed to maintain the weight loss.

  • Adults 18 and older need 30 minutes of physical activity on five or more days a week to be healthy.
  • The minimum prescription for aerobic exercise is 30-60 minutes, 3-5 times a week.
  • To maintain muscle mass, strength training should be performed 2-3 nonconsecutive days per week with each session lasting 30-45 minutes.
  • To maintain flexibility, stretching such as yoga or Pilates should be performed 2-3 nonconsecutive days per week. If you can't take the time for separate yoga sessions, stretch after cardiovascular activity.
  • Balance exercise doesn't have to be a separate session. Perform some of your exercises in the gym while standing on one leg. Then switch to the other leg. Add some yoga positions that require standing on one leg.

The guidelines above reflect bare minimums and will vary based on one's caloric intake, as well as other factors such as metabolism, body fat percentage, and muscle mass percentage. Athletes in various sports require different mixes of the three types of exercise. Running a marathon would require many hours of aerobic activity and stretching. Olympic swimmers spend hours in the pool each day although their activity may be as short as a 50-meter swim.

Rest is a vital component of any exercise program. Once the muscles have been stressed it can take anywhere from 36 - 90 hours to repair the muscles. Besides eating balanced meals loaded with nutrients, it's vital to sleep eight to nine hours every night so the body can recover fully.

Men over the age of 40 and women over the age of 50 planning to begin vigorous physical activity should consult a health care provider. Individuals with one of the conditions below should also consult a health care provider for help in designing a safe program of physical activity.

  • A chronic health problem such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, asthma, or obesity.
  • High risk for heart disease, such as a family history of heart disease or stroke; eating a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol; smoking; or having a sedentary lifestyle.
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