Are you meeting your exercise recommendations?
I often get asked what is more important, exercise or diet. As a dietitian I of course want to say diet. But this question is a little bit like asking what’s more important, food or water. You would never pick one over the other!
Living an active lifestyle and getting the recommended amount of exercise will have a positive outcome on most medical states, but exercise is especially essential if you are following a weight loss regime.
- If you are actively losing weight, exercise will not only help you burn some of the calories, but also helps to attenuate the inevitable muscle loss. The more muscle you maintain the more efficient your body is at burning calories! This self-reinforcing nature of exercise makes it an indispensable part of weight management.
- If you have type 2 diabetes, exercise makes your body more receptive to insulin and sugar therefore lowering your blood sugar.
- Exercise has been shown to be beneficial in managing a whole variety of conditions from cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancers to inflammatory bowel disease and more.
Patients are often surprised to learn the amount of recommended exercise and frankly, I wonder why are recommendations so poorly promoted!?! Governments spend so much money on these studies, why don’t they do more to publicise them? Maybe it would be helpful if they were prominently featured throughout hospitals, GP surgeries and other public places.
People often say: ‘I’m active, I go to yoga once a week’, ‘I walk to work’ or ‘I make sure to stretch every day’ and while any exercise is better than none, most of our activity level is woefully inadequate!
In the USA, the country that got the highest number of medals in the last Olympics, according to the Centers for Disease Control, only about 21% of the population meets recommendations! The English are actually doing a lot better here: in 2012, 66% of adult men and 55% of adult women met exercise recommendations! Though the sad bit is that this level seems to have been declining with age.
…In my humble opinion, we are often too hasty to overestimate the ‘harm’ of exercise – as in ‘ooh, I have a bit of a headache, I best skip on my run today’ or ‘I had a tough day and feel exhausted, shouldn’t go to the gym this tired’ whereas exercise would have most likely improved on both complaints – exercise being a vasodilator could conceivably relieve a slight headache and there is nothing like a good run to deal with a day’s stress – likely it will improve your sleep quality too!
…while we’re at it, let me ramble on a bit as I have often noticed that most of us are just as quick to overestimate the harm of exercise, as we underestimate the caloric price of that ice cream or doughnut… can you really afford those 300 calories… will that really solve your problem with your horrible boss? It’s all about being mindful!
…but back to the main topic – exercise.
The recommendations in the USA and the UK are pretty comparable and here they are:
- 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or about 30 minutes / 5 days a week. Walking and cycling are good examples of moderate activity
- Alternatively, 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise per week, such as running.
- Additional benefits are seen with activity levels double the guidelines
- Minimise sedentary activity
You should aim to be active on most days of the week either way you choose. You should include muscle strengthening activities as well as aerobic. Many activities involve both! Work slowly towards improving your stamina – set yourself activity goals and when you reach them set new ones! Enjoy breaking your personal records! Find exercise buddies.
Doesn’t matter what you choose, the most important thing is that you enjoy it – otherwise you won’t stick with it.
Join a couch to 5K group
Running not your thing – consider salsa lessons or ballroom dancing
Get off the bus or the underground one stop before your destination and walk the rest
Take the stairs instead of the lift
I am not an exercise physiologist – but it is my firm belief that everyone working in a healthcare setting should be familiar with recommendations and promote their benefits!
…and of course check with your doctor if you are unsure it’s safe for you to exercise.