Many Americans have little or no physical activity in their daily lives. Approximately 24 percent of adults in the United States do not engage in any leisure time physical activity, while only about 49 percent perform the recommended amount of physical activity (at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days per week). Getting regular physical activity can help keep your heart healthy, prevent some diseases, and make depression better. It also can help you stay at a healthy weight and give you more energy.
Most people should get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on at least five days of the week. You can split up the 30 minutes of physical activity into 10-minute blocks. Moderate-intensity activity makes you feel like you feel when you walk fast. If moderate-intensity is too hard, you can start slower and work up to it.
There are many activities that you can do at a moderate level to stay healthy.
Walking is an excellent aerobic activity. Cycling, rowing, stair machine climbing, and other endurance-type activities are also great. Swimming and water aerobics are excellent for people with arthritis. Low-impact activities are recommended because they are less likely to result in physical injury. Running on a street is a higher impact activity because of the stresses on the feet and legs as they strike the ground with each step.
The exercises should be enjoyable and simple to carry out to encourage a long-term commitment. It may be best to vary the exercises you do each week (such as swim on three of the days and walk on three of the days) to decrease repetitive strain to your muscles and other tissues.
There is no age specific heart rate recommendation; a specific heart rate is not necessary to achieve health benefits. If you are breathless, fatigued, and sweating, you have worked hard enough. During moderate intensity exercise, you should be able to carry on a conversation.
A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (e.g., brisk walking) is recommended on five days each week. Alternately, you can perform 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g., jogging) on three days each week. This recommendation is in addition to routine, light-intensity activities of daily living (e.g., cooking, casual walking, shopping, etc.).
Resistance training can be done with weights, machines, or exercise bands. It should be performed at least twice a week with at least 48 hours of rest between sessions. Resistance training is commonly described in terms of “sets” of “repetitions.”
- A repetition is a single completed back and forth motion of a resistance exercise, such as bending and extending the arm at the elbow while holding a weight in the hand.
- A set is a number of repetitions done without resting.
Most experts recommend at least one set of exercises, including 8 to 12 repetitions, for each of the major muscle groups. Begin with minimal resistance (light weights, resistive bands, or even a can of food) to allow the muscles and other tissues to adapt.
It is important to use proper technique. If you belong to a health club, ask a trainer to observe your technique. Be sure to breathe normally while lifting weights. Do not hold the breath; instead, exhale with exertion. Do not perform resistance training if you are in pain or have swelling anywhere.
Stretching and flexibility exercises should include every major joint (hip, back, shoulder, knee, upper trunk, neck). It is best not to stretch “cold” muscles, so engage in a few minutes of low intensity aerobic exercise first. Movement into a stretch should be slow, and the stretch itself should be held for approximately 10 to 30 seconds. Do not bounce while beginning or performing a stretch.
Each exercise should be performed several times. Stretch and yoga classes are also a good way to remain flexible. The stretch should not cause pain, but only mild discomfort.
You can also work physical activity into what you already do. For example, walk to the store instead of driving, use a push instead of a riding lawnmower, or park further from entrances.
Making a plan can help you get started. Think about what activities you would enjoy and when and where you can do them. Some people like to do physical activities by themselves. Others like to do physical activity with a partner or in an organized group. Consider planning active time with family members to set a good example, or help them get the physical activity they need to stay healthy. Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to increase your physical activity.
- Drink fluids during and after exercise. Thirst is a good indicator that more fluids are needed.
- Do not exercise outdoors if the temperature is too hot or too cold.
- Wear supportive, well-fitting running or walking shoes. Replace shoes when signs of deterioration develop (e.g., cracking, separation of shoe from the sole, imprint of the foot in the insole). The amount of time exercise shoes will last depends upon a number of factors, including how often and where the shoes are worn.