Exercise is Medicine – But How Much is Optimal?
Many of us stopped to consider our fitness levels at New Year’s and are now struggling to keep up with those goals. But how much is enough? What counts?
Health Canada revised their recommendations (downwards!) in 2011 to the cumulative total of 150 minutes each week as a minimum for adults (children need an hour a day). You can include any moderate to vigorous activity that has a duration of at least 10 minutes. A two hour-long yoga class can be a great start. Add a little climbing and you will get even closer to your target of 150 minutes. Alternatively, you may walk part of your commute to the office by either parking further away or getting off a few stops earlier if you take public transit. If you love the more traditional gym workouts or you prefer the social aspect of a team sport, include that as well. The biggest challenge that my clients have is to make it a routine and that becomes much easier if you enjoy the physical activities that you participate in.
There are some easy ways to stay on track. Here are a few that I use:
- Sign up for a class. If you know that you are pre-registered then you will make it a priority to attend.
- Turn a social interaction with your friend into a fitness activity such as going to play a match of tennis or catching up while you walk around your neighborhood.
- Include your spouse in your activity-pick a sport that you both enjoy.
- Get a dog-walking the dog will become a huge part of your life.
Consider the type of exercise you choose for the benefits it offers as well. Impact through the bones (weight bearing) and exercises that put resistance through the muscles will help to keep bones strong. An activity that increases your heart rate and respiration rate (breathing rate) improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs. Try to include different activities in your total 150 minutes– variety will really help to get at different components of fitness : strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance.
Don’t forget that household chores can also count as physical activity. Gardening is a great activity for strengthening your muscles, improving your flexibility as well as your cardiovascular endurance. You don’t need a team jersey or competition in order to get your heart and muscles to work a bit!
My personal opinion is that adults need more than health Canada’s recommended 150 minutes per week, but this gives you a starting point. Committing 30 minutes, 5 days a week or its equivalent, is a minimum target. Aim for that at first if you aren’t already there, but I’m sure if you continue to build your exercise beyond that, you will see even more benefits! Dr. Mike Evans from St. Michael’s Hospital has produced a 9 min video on YouTube discussing “What is the single best thing we can do for our health” that is worth a look.
Exercise may well be the most potent medicine in the world. Hope you are able to get out and enjoy in 2015!
Laurie Bickerton, FCAMPT Physiotherapist
Laurie Bickerton is a FCAMPT physiotherapist practicing at Rebalance Sports Medicine in downtown Toronto.