Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of these chronic diseases including high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and many more. As you age, it’s important to protect your bones, joints and muscles. Not only do they support your body and help you move, but keeping bones, joints and muscles healthy can help ensure that you’re able to do your daily activities and be physically active. Physical activity can help your thinking, learning and keep your judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression, help you sleep better and give you a longer, healthier life.
Physical Activity vs. Exercise
- Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles resulting in energy expenditure or simply put, moving!
- Exercise is planned, structured, repetitive and intentional movement intended to improve or maintain physical fitness.
Measuring Physical Activity Intensity
The talk test is a simple way to measure relative intensity. In general, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity.
If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
Examples of Moderate-Intensity:
- Walking fast (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
- Bicycling on level ground or with few hills (slower than 10 miles an hour)
- Tennis (doubles)
- General gardening
- Pushing a lawn mower
Examples of Vigorous-Intensity:
- Race walking, jogging or running
- Swimming laps
- Bicycling fast (10 miles per hour or faster)or on hills
- Jumping rope
- Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
- Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
Rule of thumb: 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity.
Exercise Helps Control Weight: Exercise helps prevent excess weight gain and helps maintain weight loss. Engaging in physical activity helps you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. If you can’t do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Exercise Combats Health Conditions and Diseases: No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Regular physical activity helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and more.
Exercise Boosts Energy: Regular physical activity improves your muscle strength and boosts your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently, which gives you more energy to go about your daily chores.
Exercise Improves Mood: Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
- Children 6 to 17 years old: 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day.
- Adults 18 years to 64 years old: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days of muscle-strenghtening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
- Or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days of muscle-strenthening activities that work all major muscle groups.
- Or an equivalent mix of moderate – and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strenthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
- Older Adults 65 years or older: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days a week of muscle-strenthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.)
- Healthy pregnant or postpartum women: 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread throughout the week.
Walking Is a Good Start, So, Where Do I Begin?
The first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you have not been regularly active or have a chronic illness that may limit the amount of time you exercise. Once your doctor says it’s okay, put on a pair of well-fitting sneakers and start walking!
To receive the most benefit, you should take 10,000 steps a day, which can be measured by a pedometer or by adding an app on your phone. About half of your 10,000 steps can come from everyday physical activities like walking the dog, climbing stairs (instead of taking the elevator), gardening, housework (especially sweeping, mopping or vaccuum cleaning floors), and washing your car are just a few.
How To Get Started
- Initial goal: Walk at a comfortable pace for about 10 minutes, three times a day 5 to 7 days per week (for ex., to a neighbor’s house and back).
- Step it up: Walk at a comfortable pace for 15 minutes twice a day (for ex., to the end of the street and back).
- Add distance: Walk for 15 minutes twice a day to a distance of a street and a half. (This means you have to walk a little faster to cover the increase in distance).
- Increase frequency: Walk the new distance three times (three laps) once a day in less than 30 minutes.
Being active is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Start improving the quality of your life today and increase your life span by starting a plan to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.