When many people think about doing exercise they think, “I don’t like to exercise”, “ It’s too hard”, “I‘m not in good shape”, or “ I don’t have time to exercise”. So what if we changed that word to activity and asked what do you do to be active? I can think of a lot of things that I like to do that don’t involve running around a track or lifting weights at the gym. Things like gardening, taking a walk/hike/bike ride with my family, ice skating, dancing, or shopping at the mall (much better than running around a track!). There are also other things that may not be as fun but keep us moving as well such as housework, yard work, or grocery shopping.
So, how much “activity” do you need? There are a couple of recommendations from the experts. The first one is that you should be doing 60 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, 7 days per week. What does this mean? It means finding something you like to do and do it every day at a level that increases your heart rate, makes you breathe a little faster, and may cause you to break a sweat. When doing it, you may be thinking to yourself “this is getting a little hard, but I can keep going”. The good thing is that it does not have to all be at one time. You can break up an activity, or pick 2 or 3 activities to do a day for shorter periods of time so your grand total equals 60 minutes. The other recommendation is to be more active throughout your day and spend more time on your feet than on your bottom – the goal is to take 10,000 steps per day. You may not have a pedometer that counts your steps, but you can think about your day and ask how many hours was I sitting today vs how much was I on my feet moving? If your answer for the first is larger, than you may need to think of how to get your body moving more during the day. Some ideas for this may be to set a timer for 30 minutes of computer, TV, texting time and when it goes off, take a 5-10 minute move-it break to walk around the house/yard, go up and down stairs, do some jumping jacks or jump rope, or a few chores around the house. You can also do these things during commercial breaks. A way to get more steps in is parking farther away from the store when you go shopping, taking stairs instead of elevators, or walking to a nearby store/park instead of driving.
Not meeting these recommendations? You can work up to it – start to slowly increase your daily activity by adding 10-15 minutes a day to prevent being sore or causing an injury. Slowly increase your minutes and/or moderate intensity activity over the course of a month or two so that it becomes part of your daily routine.
So what’s the pay-off? Getting the recommended amount of activity can:
- Boost your immune system and keep your sick days to a minimum.
- Improve your energy and alertness levels, as well as your overall mood (chemicals released from the brain during aerobic activity can help lift your mood and make you feel good!)
- Increase your muscle mass throughout your body. Muscles burn more calories than fat, which can help you to maintain a healthy weight
- Decrease your risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular, kidney, and liver disease.
- Help improve your sleep.
So, get active and have fun! Aim for 60 minutes of activity every day for a healthier body, heart, and mind.
Andrea Hartzell, PT is a pediatric physical therapist with the Healthy Lifestyles Program at Duke University. The program focuses on empowering kids and families with the skills and knowledge needed to live a life of healthy eating and active lifestyles.