Health authorities including the Department of Health and Human Services, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pretty clear guidelines about how much activity Americans should be getting.
“The general recommendation is at least 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity each week. If you do vigorous activity, the recommendation is at least 75 minutes,” Brawner says. The key is recognizing that scheduled exercise is still a requirement for healthful living.
Kicking Up Your Fitness Level
Although these recommendations are a good initial goal, the health and fitness payoff is based on achieving a certain level of work — and that requires challenging yourself.
These five strategies can help:
- Choose structured activity: Challenging yourself with exercise doesn’t just happen. It has to be planned. So while you might be able to squeeze in activity by parking at the far end of the parking lot or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, the real benefits come when you schedule an extended period of exercise. “At the end of the day, it boils down to what your fitness level is and how many calories you’re burning through activity,” Brawner says.
- Make sure it’s challenging: In exercise physiology, there’s something called “the overload principle.” The idea is to challenge your heart and muscles. That positive stress on the heart can enhance blood flow through the arteries and keep them healthy while also lowering your resting heart rate. That’s one reason high-intensity interval training is a solid approach. It allows you to work out in short bouts of high intensity while still getting the maximum benefits.
- Try the talk test: Not sure if your workout is cutting it? Use the talk test: You should be working hard but still able to talk without struggling. “Exercise at the highest intensity that still allows you to carry on a conversation during the activity,” Brawner suggests.
- Switch things up: Rather than focusing solely on aerobic fitness, the latest recommendations emphasize the importance of stretching and strength training. Guidelines encourage strength training at least twice a week. Stretching can enhance mobility and help reduce the risk of injury -- benefits that help you in your planned exercise but also as you move and go about your daily activities at home and work.
- Be consistent: Life is messy. You might get injured, have a particularly busy month at work or you might just be trying to enjoy the holidays with your family. Whatever the setback, it’s important to make sure fitness remains a priority.
Adopting an Active Lifestyle
Unfortunately, most Americans spend a large chunk of their lives sitting still. Even if you have a labor-intensive job, your body will ultimately adapt to accommodate that level of exercise. To become physically fit, you really have to challenge yourself at least three days each week with structured activities that work a variety of muscle groups.
No matter what type of job you have, finding the time and energy for exercise can be a challenge. But participating in structured exercise is good for both body and mind. “It will help maintain and improve fitness — and protect your health,” Brawner says.
To find a doctor or clinical exercise physiologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Clinton Brawner is a clinical exercise physiologist and researcher at Henry Ford Hospital in Preventive Cardiology.