How Much Exercise Do You Need?

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June 18, 2014


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Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and reduces your risk for developing many chronic diseases. Regular exercise also improves the risk factors — high cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar — linked to the No. 1 cause of death in the United States: heart disease.

But how much exercise do you need? And how much exercise should be devoted to aerobic health and muscle-strengthening?

Fitting regular exercise into your daily schedule is challenging for everyone. But the widely accepted guidelines for minimal physical activity are fairly easy to accomplish if you are committed to fitness goals, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

“Our credo is ‘never slow down,’ even for people in their 70s and 80s,” said Mark Caruso, M.D., a primary care physician at Baptist Health Medical Group. “We are a huge proponent of exercise for people of all ages. As you get older, cross training (aerobics and weights) benefits bone health and helps prevent osteoporosis.”

The American Heart Association recommends:

  • For overall cardiovascular health: At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week for a total of 150 minutes.  OR:  At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
  • Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity: At least two days per week for additional health benefits.
  • For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol: An average 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity three or four times per week.
  • Getting your check-up and consulting with your family physician are the first steps toward determining how much exercise you truly need. Before making a recommendation about exercise,  your doctor will consider several factors, including your weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, along with any other underlying condition.

    Dr. Caruso goes beyond the AHA guidelines of five days a week for patients with low HDL (the good cholesterol). HDL cholesterol levels less than 40 mg/dL are considered low.

    “As the cardio goes, so goes the HDL,” Dr. Caruso said. “I have several people who I have asked to exercise six or seven days a week to nudge that cholesterol up to 40 mg/dL.”

    If you’re physically able to exercise and are overweight with risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, physicians generally abide with the minimal standard of exercise recommended by the AHA.

    “The main thing is that people don’t exercise enough,” said Reginald Laroche, a clinical exercise physiologist and supervisor of cardiac rehabilitation at South Miami Hospital. “If you combine the lack of exercise with improper diets, high stress and every variable that leads to risk factors, then everything is working against you.”

    Children and Adolescents
    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day,

    Aerobic activity should make up most of a child’s daily physical activity. This can include either moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or vigorous-intensity activity, such as running. Be sure to include vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on at least three days per week. The CDC also recommends muscle-strengthening activities, such as gymnastics or push-ups, at least three days per week as part of your child’s 60 or more minutes.

    Older Adults
    Regular physical activity is important at any age. It can prevent or diminish many of the health problems that intensify with age. Physical activity helps maintain muscle strength so seniors can perform day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.

    Keep in mind, some physical activity is better than none at all, Mr. Laroche and Dr. Caruso said.

    If you’re 65 years of age or older, are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions you can follow these guidelines, according to the CDC:

  • Two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and;
  • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
  • Also acceptable, the CDC recommends, is an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

    Track Your Progress
    Mr. Laroche typically sees patients who have had heart attacks or other acute cardiac events. For some of them, a healthy lifestyle of proper nutrition and regular exercise has become a vital component of day-to-day living. But, Mr. Laroche said, people can prevent serious health problems by not waiting for risk factors to develop or progress.

    He recommends any of the activity-tracking apps available for smartphones and other devices to help  monitor your progress. Seeing how much you’ve accomplished is a big motivator to continue.

    “How much exercise you need also depends on your fitness goals,” Mr. Laroche said. “Any activity to get started is better than no activity. More activity means maintaining bone density, lean mass, mobility, flexibility and a functional capacity for a better quality of life.”

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