What Every Sedentary Adult Needs To Know About Exercising for Health
Carol Ewing Garber, Ph.D., FAHA, FACSM is a professor of Movement Sciences and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist, and an expert in the role of exercise to prevent and treat chronic disease and disability. She is also the Immediate Past President of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the world’s largest sports medicine and exercise science organization, which advances, integrates, and shares exercise and sports medicine research. In 2011 she was lead author of the ACSM’s position stand on the quantity and quality of exercise needed for developing and maintaining cardio, muscular, and neuromotor fitness.
HHN: In What Every Adult Needs To Know About Exercising for Health you said: "Doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week will reduce your chances of getting heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer by 25%- 50% and increase your lifespan by about two years." Can inactive adults who begin exercising realize some of these benefits, even if they can’t do 150 minutes?
CG: Absolutely. If you exercise, you are going to get health benefits.
The medical research shows that most very inactive people can improve their fitness by doing just 10-minute bouts of continuous physical activity. And many of them can benefit from even shorter amounts of exercise, especially if it’s done throughout the day.
HHN: What’s motivates most inactive people to begin physical activity, even for just a few minutes?
CG: Fundamentally, it comes down to "Why I want to change." You have to connect the benefits of being more active to you personally, such as:
- I want to have more energy to do the things I enjoy
- I want to feel better in my body
- I want to look better in a bathing suit
- I want to avoid X disease or improve my health since I have this disease
HHN: Sometimes people say, "I know I need to exercise, but don’t have the time."
CG: Yes, most people say "time" is the biggest reason they can’t be"Schedule in the time: This is my appointment for exercise."or haven’t been more active. One simple way to overcome this barrier is to schedule in the time. You put in your calendar: "This is my appointment for exercise. I’m going to walk, even if it’s only around the block."
Keep in mind that exercise has cumulative physical benefits. Even if you can only manage 75 or 100 minutes of physical activity per week, you’re going to get health rewards.
HHN: Some people say, "Moving is too painful."
CG: That’s a common response from people with osteoarthritis. They find it painful to walk and they fear the pain, so they restrict themselves.
But it’s really important to know what the scientific research reveals:"Moving lubricates the joints, and thereby diminishes arthritis-related pain."When you keep moving, it lubricates the joints, and thereby diminishes arthritis-related pain. It sounds counter-intuitive, and it will hurt when you first start moving, but if you keep moving, it will actually reduce the pain you experience over time.
HHN: How can people get active if they find exercising unpleasant or boring?
CG: The best physical activity is the one you don’t think of as "exercise" but as fun.
Let’s say you likes to shop. If you plan it right, you can get a really good walk in when you’re shopping.
Let’s say you like to walk. That’s a great option if you have attractive scenery nearby. In a study of Americans living in California, Georgia,"The best physical activity is the one you don’t think of as exercise, but as fun."Tennessee, Oregon, and Rhode Island, people who lived in neighborhoods with more attractive scenery and ease of walking were significantly more likely to meet national physical activity recommendations (67%) than others (36%). Or, do you live near a lovely neighborhood park? Some studies show that parks within 10 minutes of where people live or work are ideal in promoting physical activity. In one study, living near a large park was associated with having a lower body mass index.
Let’s say you like to dance, another wonderful choice. You can go out, or just put on some music and dance around your home!"Dancing is an effective alternative to walk-jog training."Notably, one study I conducted compared 35 participants who were randomly assigned to an aerobic dance program, a walk-jog program, or no exercise, and both the dance and walk-jog group had significant increases in their maximum oxygen uptake and significant decreases in peak heart rate, key measures of fitness. Our research team concluded: Aerobic dance is an effective alternative to walk-jog training.
Honestly, this finding didn’t really surprise us. It makes sense that people would increase their maximal heart rate and have other health benefits from dancing. Any kind of movement, whether or not we think of it as exercise, has positive health effects.
HHN: So the most effective way to stay active is to do movement you enjoy.
CG: Yes, and the second most effective way is to do that movement with someone you enjoy!
For many people, adding a social element to physical activity makes it much more pleasurable and fun. Research also shows that joining a group or finding a movement buddy strengthens people’s exercise habits. Making a commitment to others helps people follow through for themselves.
That said, it’s really important to be honest with yourself about who you are to find the most fun and effective path for you."Joining a group or finding a movement buddy strengthens people’s exercise habits."Some people are truly not social beings; they’ll be better off doing individual exercise. Some people love to go to the gym; others find gyms intimidating. Sometimes it depends on the gym. In one place you might see lots of super fit people wearing lycra, but at a local community center or Y, you might find lots of people who look more like you—even the instructors.
HHN: How can inactive people safely begin exercising to successfully realize its health benefits?
CG: If you’re just starting or returning to exercise, I recommend setting a goal of "just moving""Set a goal of just moving for 5−10 minutes one day a week."for 5−10 minutes on just one day a week. We’ve discussed that 10 minutes of continuous physical activity will improve most inactive people’s fitness, and those who haven’t exercised for a long while can still get benefits with shorter amounts.
That said, the length of the bout really depends upon the person. What’s most important is to see what you reasonably can do.
So, for example, you should not feel exhausted after exercising."What's most important is to see what you reasonably can do."Often, people will try to do more than they’re ready to, such as trying half an hour because that’s the recommendation. Then they’re wiped, and have to go home and take a nap.
Starting small and building up very gradually is really the best.
HHN: So if people feel exhausted after exercising, that’s a sign to do less and build up until they can do that amount without feeling worn out.
CG: Exactly. If exercising is unpleasant, you’re not going to keep moving. And if your body is deconditioned, it’s going to take time. Forward steady is the best way to win the race.
Also, be cognizant of other signals your body is sending you. If you’re feeling"You should not feel exhausted after exercising."short of breath, have chest pain or other discomfort, or if something just doesn’t feel right, stop the activity and see if the problem goes away. If that something comes regularly with activity, visit a primary care doctor to find out whether you might have an underlying condition that needs attending to.
HHN: If you’ve progressed to 10 minutes of continuous activity, what’s next?
CG: Keep that going for a couple of weeks to develop your habit. Once you see "I can accomplish this!" it will be a lot easier for you to imagine—and achieve—adding a few minutes to your time every week or two.
Each time you up your minutes, be sure to wait until you’re fully comfortable with and habituated to that new level before you try to do more minutes. Eventually, slowly but surely, you’ll get to 30 minutes and sustain it.
HHN: After you’ve habituated to 30 minutes once a week, what’s next?
CG: Only when doing 30 minutes feels very comfortable for you, and when you’re already feeling better overall because you’re moving, think about adding 1 day. You could move that day for 30 minutes, or much less.
Again, what’s most important is to accomplish what you set out to do. So, try adding 1 day and see if that’s something you can keep up with regularly. If it’s not, just return to what you can do habitually.
Some people do better by adding more time, beyond 30 minutes, because it’s easier for them"Always choose the physical activity you can do habitually."to block out that time than it is to add more days. For others, it’s easier to add another half hour or a shorter time on another day. There are lots of ways to stay active. Find the way that works best for you.
Most importantly, wherever you are on your exercise journey, remember: You do not have to build Rome in a day. You do not need to rush it. This should not be a high-pressured part of your life.
The objective is simply to find fun ways to add physical activity to your life and reap the health rewards.What Every Sedentary Adult Should Know About Exercising for Health Click To Tweetby