How much exercise should you do?

Harry Health Guide
  • Let's talk, for a moment, about what kind of shape you really need to be in. We have done ourselves a tremendous disservice by moving towards an ever more sedentary life. Sitting down is deadly, and depressing. The average mood of people watching TV is mildly depressed! We all agree that we should move more, and get in shape, but what does that mean?


    It's tempting to let you off the hook with a discussion of the bare minimum amount of exercise, but that's like asking what's the smallest amount of oxygen you can breathe and still sustain life. Research shows that the fittest men and women have about one fourth the cardiac mortality as the most sedentary when followed over a five-year period.

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    And even more encouraging, men and women who start out sedentary, but become fit, achieve reductions in both the risk of dying, and the risk of getting ill in direct proportion to how much exercise they do. The reality is that you get steadily increasing physical and emotional benefits as you move up the exercise scale, so why sell yourself short?


    Studies suggest that four days a week of good hard exercise is about the minimum for truly changing the health equation. It is certainly true that every little bit counts, so don't be discouraged if you don't get up to the four days a week anytime soon, keep doing whatever you can. But don't set the bar artificially low and then congratulate yourself for stepping over it. Four days a week is about the minimum, and six days a week is better still. You might not get there until you retire and have more free time, but hold in your mind the concept of exercising every day of your life as your ideal goal, and bitterly resent the fact that you can't do it yet.


    Exercise isn't that hard to do, and you don't actually have to like it, it's a biological imperative, and it's going to make a last 30 years of your life radically better. Committing to exercise is what's hard. One thing that makes it much easier, is to stop viewing exercise as being part of the weight-loss strategy.


    If you start exercising regularly, and get fit, you probably will lose some weight, but also probably nowhere near what you would like. That's fine. You're saving your life anyway. The concept is to look at yourself as you are right now, today, and decide to become a very fit, energetic and healthy person within your current weight. That, you can accomplish, no matter how sedentary you've been. Losing weight is a completely different goal. You can go for that too, but if you fail, don't give up the exercise, any more than you would stop taking your kids to school, going to work, or doing any other fundamentally important part of your life.


    The most important thing you can do in your weight management strategy, and certainly the easiest to put into place, is to begin moving on a daily basis. Join a gym, and start showing up every day. If you absolutely hate gyms, walking is a great place to start, and if you can enlist some friends, all the better. The pedometers they sell at most drugstores now are lots of fun, and if you start measuring your steps over the course of the day you'll find that you have a little natural competition with yourself to keep you going.


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    Whatever you do, start thinking of exercise as your natural birthright, and as one of your life's great imperatives. The weight will follow.

Published On: February 27, 2008

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