Amidst your busy schedule, you may struggle to fit in exercise. The good news is that everyday tasks like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house or running errands count as physical activity, an umbrella term to describe anything that requires movement.
“All daily movement makes a difference. Even the smallest amount of physical activity improves your overall health,” says Joseph Medellin, M.D., a primary care sports medicine physician for Henry Ford Health. “But exercise—structured movement that pushes you physically—offers the greatest health benefits.”
Here, Dr. Medellin dives deeper into how much physical activity you need, how movement benefits your health and strategies for starting an exercise program.
The Health Benefits Of Physical Activity
“Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. Regular exercise improves your heart and lung health, significantly reducing your risk for heart disease,” Dr. Medellin says. He adds that regular physical activity offers many other health benefits, including:
- Reducing the risk for chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes
- Lowering the risk for breast, colon, endometrial and prostate cancer
- Improving mental health by increasing self-esteem and reducing anxiety and depression
- Managing weight and reducing the risk of obesity
- Strengthening bones and reducing the risk of osteoporosis
How Much Physical Activity Do You Need?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise each week. They also suggest adding at least two weekly strength training sessions to build muscle.
Here are examples of the different levels of physical activity:
- Light physical activity: Walking
- Moderate intensity physical activity: Brisk walking
- Rigorous physical activity: Running
One way to assess your activity level is to measure your heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. You can check your heart rate by taking your pulse on your wrist or using an activity tracker or smartwatch.
The American Heart Association defines moderately intense exercise as anything that gets you to a target heart rate of 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. Aim for a lower heart rate if you’re just starting an exercise program. Over time, you can increase your activity level as you build your endurance.
How to Start An Exercise Program
“For many people, starting an exercise program can seem daunting. But it’s not if you start slowly and build your endurance and fitness over time,” Dr. Medellin says. “You don’t need to join a gym or buy fancy equipment to get a workout.”
Dr. Medellin recommends following these steps to get started:
- Check with your doctor: If you’ve been sedentary, talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Your physician can advise you on any precautions you should take as you start a new exercise routine.
- Don’t forget strength training: Lifting weights helps build and maintain healthy bones, preventing the risk of injuries as you age.
- Make it fun: Make exercise more enjoyable by involving family and friends. Try a new sport like pickleball together. Find new places to hike or bike in your community.
- Set realistic goals: Determine your weekly targets and expand your goals as your fitness improves. You may want to aim to participate in a local walk event or try a new exercise like yoga.
- Start small: You don’t need to set aside hours each day to exercise. Start with small snack-sized sessions that fit into your schedule. Set realistic goals that increase as your fitness improves.
- Take advantage of online resources: Check out free online fitness classes or get instructions for strength training exercises to enhance your routine.
To find a sports medicine physician or fitness trainer at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.
Dr. Joseph Medellin is a primary care sports medicine doctor at Henry Ford Medical Center - Jackson.