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  • Nancy Boudreau, RYT, CHHC

With Exercise, Consistency, Not Quantity, is the Key

Psst! Yes, you. Got a minute?

Good. Take a deep breath in as you raise your arms up overhead, palms together if you can. Now exhale and lower your arms back down to your side.

Great. Do it again.

Excellent! Do it one more time.

Now, don’t you feel better? That didn’t even take a minute and you’ve already got more energy and feeling better.

That’s the thing about physical activity. A little bit goes a long way. You don’t have to go to the gym for an hour-long sweaty workout for it to “count.” Instead of focusing on quantity, focus on consistency. A little bit of exercise is better than none at all.

I’ve been consistent, making a point of getting a little bit of movement on most days of the week. Nothing crazy—some stretching, yoga, a quick walk— and I’m feeling pretty good.

It made me wonder. How much activity do I need to accumulate to reap health benefits from exercise? I did some digging, and this is what I found out.

What are the benefits of physical activity?

Regular physical activity improves both your physical and mental health. Physically it helps with weight management, strengthening your bones and muscles, and making it easier for you to do everyday activities. It also helps to improve balance, which decreases the risk of falls, especially important for older adults.

Exercise helps reduce your risk of Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Regular physical activity also helps with joint health, making it easier to manage pain associated with chronic conditions like arthritis.

Regular physical activity also improves brain health. Exercise helps boost memory, improve sleep, and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

How much exercise IS enough?

The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two days of strength training that works all major muscle groups each week.

I know—At first glance, that sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. You can break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

For example, for the aerobic activity, you could do 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You don’t even have to do the whole 30 minutes at once. You could break it up into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions.

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include brisk walking, swimming, bicycling and doubles tennis.

Aerobic activity doesn’t have to be what we typically think of as exercise. It also includes things like mowing the lawn, dancing, cleaning the house and gardening.

So how do you know if you’re exercising at a moderate intensity? Do the talk test. You should be able to say a few words but not sing a song.

Whatever activity you decide to do, keep it simple and make it fun! Recruit your family or friends to join you for a bike ride. Make it a part of your routine so it becomes a habit—Go for a walk with co-workers after lunch or with your family after dinner. Do your strength training while watching your favorite TV show.

Let’s pump some iron

I have to admit—I’ve been having a hard time getting on board with this. Not sure what the resistance is, but it’s time to get with the program! Sure, some yoga poses work to build strength, but it’s time to add weights to the fitness routine.

For strength training, plan on two days of strength training that works all major muscle groups— legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms. Use hand weights, exercise bands or your own body weight.

You can find videos online that demonstrate quick and simple whole-body workouts. Or you can break it up by working legs, hips and abs on one day, then chest, back, shoulders and arms on the other. We’re talking about 15 to 20 minutes per session.

What if I want to lose weight?

The above recommendations are the minimum for maintaining general health. If you want to lose weight, you may have to increase the amount of time, but start here. As you get stronger, you’ll naturally increase your activity.

Focus on the health benefits, how your clothes fit and the increased energy you get from working out, not the numbers on the scale. Muscle weighs more than fat so the scale is useless for determining progress.

Exercise doesn’t have to be all or nothing

Doing a little over several days instead of being a weekend warrior is easier to manage than you think. By breaking it up into shorter more manageable sessions, you’re more likely to stick with it and less likely to burn out or injure yourself due to fatigue.

The key here is to just start. A walk around the block may be all you can manage right now. That’s great! Start there and add a little bit more distance every week. If you haven’t been physically active for a while or have any chronic health conditions, you should consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new fitness plan.

The hardest part of exercising is getting started. Grab your sneakers and go for a quick walk. I can almost guarantee that once you get moving, you’ll feel energized and ready to keep going.

Be well.

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