As the charm of the holiday season wanes and the last bits of leftovers are cleared from the fridge, some may be mapping out fitness routines for the coming year. We all know we need to get our bodies moving, but the real question is: How much?
Current USDA guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week for healthy adults ages 18 through 64. Being active five hours a week will result in even more health benefits, it says.
The quota can be daunting, especially for those who haven’t ridden the fitness train in a while. A 2014 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 21 percent of American adults met the criteria for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity that year.
Recently, physicians and weight management specialists have been trying to alleviate the problem by prescribing exercise regimens in addition to medications.
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But if you’re new to fitness and attempting to self-prescribe, you might be asking yourself a few questions: When should I exercise? What should I do? Do I have to do it every day?
The Bee sat down with Dr. Kay Judge, medical director of the Sutter Weight Management Institute, to get her recommendations.
Q: So, about those guidelines. How much wiggle room do people have on that?
A: The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University did a study on over 600,000 people last year and tried to find a link between amount of exercise and early death. The people most at risk for early death were those who didn’t exercise at all. People who exercised less than 150 minutes each week had a 20 percent decreased risk of death, and people who did the full 150 minutes had a 31 percent decrease. People who did 300 minutes (five hours) each week had a 39 percent decrease. After that there was a plateau; there was no further difference. So it’s quantified. It’s a dose-dependent response in terms of benefits from exercise, but if we go too crazy, it kind of plateaus.
Q: The guidelines also recommend we spread that activity out over a few days. How does that benefit our health, compared to having one action-packed day?
A: We get the benefit of exercise not only when we exercise, but through an after-burn. That after-burn can last anywhere from six to 48 hours after we exercise. We’re giving ourselves the benefit of an increased metabolic rate daily. And that’s particularly true for strength training and muscle buildup, which burns calories long after training.
Q: People often associate cardio with calorie burning and strength exercise with building muscle. So people who want to lose weight will just run, and people who want to get buff will just lift. Why is it important to do both?
A: We need to do two things to be at ideal physique. We need to burn body fats and build muscle in our body. A lot of exercises that use the body’s resistance against itself will do both aerobic activity and muscle building. Crossfit regimens are a great example of that. With running, it’s a repetitive stimulation of the same muscle, so you aren’t building new muscle. Isometric exercise increases the body’s resistance – squats, lunges, push-ups, sit-ups. Most people think of big buff guys in a gym, but strength training is really available to all of us.
Q: If someone only has 15 minutes to hit the gym at the end of the day, is it still worth a stop?
A: Studies have shown that anything over 10 minutes is beneficial to health. We often tell patients that if they don’t have 60 minutes of time, do it in 10-minute increments throughout the day, and you will get an equivalent benefit. And even if it’s just 10 minutes for the whole day, that’s still much better than nothing at all. It’s so important to say that 10 minutes, absolutely, is exercise. It’s a stepping stone.
Q: What can we do with those 15 minutes that will make the biggest difference to our overall health?
A: Usually, the best exercise is to put on your shoes and go for a walk. Because usually when we have 20 minutes we don’t have time to plan. And studies have shown that home-based exercises have the most success. Every time there’s one more step between (you and) doing something, chances are you’re not going to do it.
Q: Some people feel that walking and taking the stairs is enough to constitute their daily workout. Does that do the job, or should it be considered a supplement to more vigorous activity?
A: There’s a certain amount of calories burned in people who are mobile all day, and it is linked to a leaner body. That’s where that 10,000 steps comes from. That’s where it’s really beneficial, if someone wants to make a change and have an activity tracker. I tell my office workers that every hour they should get up and take a walk instead of sitting at your desk again. Go visit a co-worker instead of sending an email. Go to a bathroom on another floor. Take the stairs. It really makes a difference.
Q: How do these guidelines change for someone who is overweight, elderly or has an underlying medical condition?
A: If men are over 40, or women are over 50, they should see a physician before starting exercise. If you have blood pressure, diabetes or heart conditions, you should ask your doctor.
We don’t have an option to not do anything. But we do have an option to start slow and keep going every single day. We don’t have to start at 150 minutes, but we can get there. I have patients who start at five minutes a day. There should be a commitment to start at whatever our baseline is, that we can do every day, until we hit the 30 minutes a day. Just track it on your calendar so you have a visual.
Q: What’s one small thing I can do each day to add a few years to my life span?
A: Don’t get overwhelmed by yearlong goals. Every day, set out to do what you need to do every day. Whether it’s five minutes or 30 minutes of exercise, make sure every day you’ve done that. A half-hour walk is crucial. It’s probably the most important thing we can put in our calendar. We usually put ourselves on the bottom rung of our priorities in life. By dedicating time to our health, we’ve prioritized ourselves.