New Exercise Guidelines: More is Better--But Some is Essential

Craig Stoltz Health Guide
  • Two influential groups issued a new set of exercise guidelines. Very useful and important stuff--but the report could wind up discouraging some people.

    Let's put our feet up for a moment and take a close look.

    Bottom line first

    Adults without serious medical conditions should do strength training two days a week. In addition, five days a week they should get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking. Or they can do more vigorous exercise, like jogging, for 20 minutes three times per week. Losing weight or maintaining weight loss will likely require additional exercise.

    People over 65 or with some chronic health conditions have slightly modified recommendations, which include adding stretching and balance exercises.

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    Key details

    If any of this sounds familiar, it's likely because these guidelines build on a similar 1995 report. The current guidelines incorporate the last 12 years of research.

    The American College of Sports Medicine, the largest exercise science group in the world, and the American Heart Association issued the update. Both groups have track records of basing recommendations on solid science.

    The recommendations are designed to guide adults to good health by lowering disease risk, improving cardio-vascular health, and helping control body weight. They don't represent what to do to "get in shape" as often defined by personal trainers, sports coaches or fitness magazines.

    Why you shouldn't be discouraged

    The guidelines call for a substantial commitment of time--at least 3.5 hours per week for most folks. But these are goals you should work up to slowly, not something that's expected of you right now.

    The report does not state this, but a convincing body of research shows the greatest health benefits go to those who are currently doing nothing and start doing something. Even moderate walking two or three days per week has been shown to cut risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease in previously sedentary adults.

    The strength training described in the report--8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises that target most muscles groups--is also a goal, not an out-of-the-gate mandate.

    Strength exercises need not include conventional weights: exercises like push-ups or abdominal curls, or routines done with flexible exercise bands, can accomplish the same thing as using health club machines or using barbells.

    So what are you going to do about it?

    First, read the new guidelines.

    If you are completely sedentary, begin a program of mild walking. Over several weeks or even months, slowly work your way up to 30 minutes most days of the week.

    If you are currently walking regularly as the recommendations suggest, add strength training (the ACSM site has recommendations on how to begin).

    If you are currently meeting or exceeding the recommendations, congratulations. Everything else you do will deliver even more health and fitness benefits, plus help you look and feel even better.

    At any stage of your exercise program, check with your doctor if a joint starts hurting or you have pains other than the usual slight muscle soreness that comes as your body adjusts to a new workload.

  • For more help, our Diet & Exercise center offers expert advice and group support.

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Published On: August 02, 2007