How Much Should I Exercise?

Here is a question I receive all the time...Sarah, how much should I exercise? This is actually a great question and the answer truly depends. (I'm sorry, I know I always say that...one of these days maybe I'll give you a straight "yes" or "no.")

What is your goal?

Are you trying to improve your overall health? Awesome! I love working with clients who recognize the importance of exercise as a means to improve their overall health. Now I may be a bit biased, but I view exercise as one THE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS to improve one's overall health. Let's just take a moment and revel in some of the many benefits of regular exercise...

  • Improved cardiorespiratory health

  • Improved metabolism

  • Improved metabolism

  • Increased bone density

  • Decrease body fat

  • Increase lean muscle mass

  • Increase strength of connective tissues, such as tendons and ligaments

  • Improved performance for sports and life - strength, power, endurance, agility, speed, and balance

  • Promotes a positive mood

  • Reduces stress

  • Improves sleep

  • Reduces depression and anxiety (some studies have found at a comparable level to antidepressants!)

From my perspective as a trainer, I have literally witnessed these benefits in action. In fact, my favorite moments have not been scale victories, but when a client comes back from their yearly physical and proudly hands me their blood work showing off normalized cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood sugar levels. Sure, it's great to shed unwanted pounds and feel lighter and tighter, all while having more confidence. But when I think about how people's LIVES can be CHANGED through exercise, it always reminds me that exercise is one of the greatest "drugs" that exists! On a personal note, I have been using cardiovascular training as a form of anti-anxiety "medication" for over a decade and I consider a daily 30 minute walk a minimum for maintenance.

So, how much exercise do you need to actually realize these benefits?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, adults should aim for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or a combined total of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise is defined as that which gets your heart pumping, breaks a sweat, but still feels "doable" - such as a brisk walk, swimming, or mowing the lawn. On the other hand, if you are the type who really likes to get your heart pumping, you can substitute 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, defined as running, higher-intensity aerobics classes (e.g., spin, step class), or boxing. If you are new to exercise and the amounts listed here seem daunting, fear not! You can start with smaller increments, such as 10 minutes at a time, and build up both the length of each bout and total accrued time.

In addition to cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, strength training is also extremely important and should never be overlooked. Strength training helps to improve your functional ability in everyday life, for sport, and increasing your resting metabolic rate (muscle is more metabolically active in comparison to fat), in addition to creating a more "toned" physique. Strength training should be done a minimum of two times a week, working all major muscle groups to the point of momentary muscular fatigue.

What if I want to lose weight, not just feel better?

If your goal is weight loss, exercise becomes even more important. First, to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit - in other words, you need to burn more energy off than you take in (if you don't know what I mean by this, or you think I am oversimplifying things, please check out this article I wrote on the subject). While it is extremely difficult to achieve the necessary deficit you need through exercise alone, exercise is extremely helpful in creating a greater deficit, which can accelerate the rate of weight loss, in addition to all of the other benefits listed above. Additionally, as you lose weight, including strength training helps to preserve muscle mass, which as I stated earlier is important for increasing your resting metabolic rate (i.e., how many calories you burn at rest).

Experts suggest doubling the cardio exercise recommendations for general health; in other words, 60 minutes a day or 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, or 150 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.

In my own experience with clients, I have found that 45-60 minutes per day of brisk walking is extremely beneficial in achieving weight loss goals.

But Sarah, that's a lot of exercise! I don't have time for all that!

Sure you do. You have time to check Facebook (for hours), time to "Pin" on Pinterest, time to hit that snooze button, time to binge watch Game of Thrones...you just don't want to PRIORITIZE exercise. And that's okay. Just don't say "I don't have time." Sorry if I sound harsh here, but I have clients who come into the gym at 5 am because they know they want to get their workout in before they get consumed with the rest of their day. I have clients who are extremely busy business owners, physicians, paralegals, stay-at-home moms...they all make time for exercise because they have PRIORITIZED it because they see the benefits. These are people that we otherwise might say "wouldn't have time" but they figure out how to make it happen, whether it's installing a treadmill desk, having me train them at their home before the rest of their family is awake, or walk the Riverwalk downtown on their lunch hour.

You have 24 hours in a day - 30 minutes is literally only TWO PERCENT of your day. And to be honest, I get a lot done while I exercise. Sure I watch TV here and there or listen to a great playlist, but a lot of time, I'm texting my clients to check in or confirm their next appointment, reading my email, or ordering more supplies. I make time for weight lifting several times a week, and I always include one or two higher-intensity sessions, such as a boxing class or longer run. So a better question to ask yourself is, do I PRIORITIZE exercise? Hopefully seeing the list of benefits here will help you to move in that direction.

OK, I want to PRIORITIZE exercise...what are some tips for doing that when I AM super busy?

  • Make it as convenient as humanly possible. For example...

  • Buy your own treadmill to keep at home so you can walk whenever you want. If you really want to invest in a home workout space that will allow you to accomplish almost everything you could need, consider purchasing an adjustable set of dumbbells such as these (which are often available on Craigslist) and a weight bench.

  • Keep fitness equipment in a clean, desirable spot. Make it somewhere you want to be - don't relegate it to your laundry room where no one wants to spend an extra minute. Make it bright, comfortable. Keep equipment clear of debris (i.e., don't use that treadmill as a clothes drying rack). Put a TV close by.

  • If you exercise at home, who cares what you look like? I often walk in my pajamas. I keep a pair of "retired" (but still good!) gym shoes under my treadmill so it's one less thing to have to get.

  • Make it "me time." Shift your mindset - instead of seeing exercise as something you "have" to do, make it something you GET to do. You are blessed enough to be ABLE to exercise. Your exercise time can be that time away from kids, your spouse, your boss, your clients and colleagues...hey this might be the only time you do get to binge watch Game of Thrones - just do it while walking!

  • Avoid that expensive "boutique" gym membership - you know, the one that has the fancy locker room, rock climbing wall, and all the other stuff you hope you'll use but never actually do. If you need a gym membership, keep it close to home and one that is easy to get in and out of. Before you commit, pay attention to how busy it is at the times you'll want to use it. Ask for a free week guest pass - most gyms will be happy to accommodate you. Will you be able to get on what you want, or will you waste your precious time wandering, looking for an open machine?

Is it possible to exercise TOO MUCH?

Believe it or not, it can be! BUT...it's REALLY hard to do. (i.e., I've had to talk to perhaps one to two clients about this in the past eight years.) Sometimes exercising excessively can cause one to feel extremely hungry, so much so that their food intake might overcompensate for the amount of exercise that they did, and they could remain the same weight or even gain. Additionally, exercising excessively without replenishing fluids, especially in hot and humid environments, can cause water loss that affects performance with just a 2% decrease in hydration! Therefore, it's important to hydrate before, during, and after exercise, especially in extreme conditions. Excessive exercise with poor form (really, any exercise with poor form) puts you at greater risk for injury. It can also increased stress to the body if not accompanied by adequate refueling. But as I stated, this is pretty hard to do and rare for most clients. If you are unsure if your exercise is excessive, check with a trusted fitness professional.

We all know exercise is good for us, even great, but it can be hard knowing just how much you need to do to realize these benefits. Remember, any exercise is better than no exercise, but use the above guidelines to help you gradually build up to the optimal level for your goals. Most importantly, have fun so it's something you'll love and make a habit!

If you'd love to learn how much exercise is right for your specific goal, or need help figuring out how to make it a part of your life or learning proper technique, contact me here!

In good health,

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