How Much Exercise Do You Need

It may not be as much as you think. The Surgeon General's 1996 report on physical activity and health states: "Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits." The report recommends that people of all ages get a minimum of thirty minutes of physical activity of moderate intensity (such as brisk walking) on most, if not all, days of the week. The report also says that, for most people, it's even better to exercise harder and longer.

I recommend that your daily minimum of thirty minutes of physical activity take place all at once because it will get your fat-burning engine into a sustained mode. However, for those of you who absolutely cannot or will not do it all at once, the following provides some benefits, although results will take longer to achieve: Try three ten-minute sessions (or two fifteen-minute sessions) of moderately intense activity. For example, do ten minutes of sit-ups, leg lifts, stretching and arm exercises in the morning; take a brisk ten-minute walk at lunchtime; rake some leaves and do a bit of vigorous house or yard work for ten minutes before dinner and ... you've done it! (See also "Transforming Your Inner Couch Potato" on page 290).

Another way to organize your exercise is to count the calories you burn (you know I'm not going to ask you to count the calories you consume!) According to renowned researcher and founder of the College Alumni Health Study Ralph Paffenbarger in his book LifeFit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life, you should expend 1,500 to 2,000 calories per week for the greatest health benefit. Check the calorie expenditure tables on pages 298-300 and draw up your plan.

An important note: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you include weight-bearing exercise in your workouts two to three (non-consecutive) days a week. It's recommended that you do one set each of eight to twelve exercises that address most of the major muscles in the body. The correct amount of resistance for you is that which will cause fatigue at eight to twelve repetitions. Once you can do twelve reps, step up the amount of resistance. If you don't have access to a gym, you can use inexpensive, lightweight dumbbells or resistance bands. If you go this route, get yourself a book or video that shows proper form for exercising with free weights (or bands), so you don't injure yourself and get the most out of your workout.

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