Adapted from information provided by the American Heart Association
Exercise is something most people struggle to fit into their daily routine. Studies show that only 1 in 5 adults and teens get enough exercise to maintain balanced wellness. And for children? 74% of kids are not getting enough daily physical activity. But how can we find the time to work on physical activity between school, homework, jobs, meetings, commutes, etc.? Perhaps it could be easier if we knew exactly how much we should dedicate to our physical well-being.
What counts as physical activity?
Physical activity is anything that moves your body and burns calories. This includes simple things you do already like walking, climbing stairs, and carrying all the groceries in one trip. When looking at improving physical activity, the American Heart Association says you should aim to increase how much moderate to vigorous aerobic activity you do daily. Aerobic activity (or cardio) elevates your heart rate and improves your cardiorespiratory fitness.
With moderate-intensity activities, your heart will beat faster, and you will breathe harder than usual but will still be able to talk. Think of it as a medium amount of effort. Activities like…
- brisk walking - walking as if you have somewhere you need to be
- casual dancing
- biking slower than 10 miles per hour
- swinging at the playground
Vigorous activities will push your body a little further and require more effort. These are the activities that really get you to sweat, like...
- hiking uphill
- Aerobic dancing, like Zumba
- swimming laps
- heavy yardwork
- cycling 10 miles per hour or faster
- jumping rope
Think about what moderate activities you could easily add to your routine now. How about vigorous activities? Maybe you speed up that afternoon walk with the dog, find hillier trails to hike, start a garden, or play Just Dance with the family! Even simply aiming to sit less during the day is a great place to start. Putting more focus on aerobic activity helps us live longer, healthier lives. It can lower the risk of various diseases, improve sleep and brain function, and lessen depression and anxiety.
So how much should we do?
We have all heard that we need to take 10,000 steps a day to be healthy. You have probably even seen other sources argue that only 6,000 is necessary. 6,000 steps certainly sound more attainable as a daily goal, but it still requires time and effort. Any physical activity will require some dedication. Fortunately, new studies show that being healthy can do less with steps and miles and more to do with minutes.
For kids 6-17 - 60 minutes a day!
Kids 6-17 years old should get at least 60 minutes a day of aerobic activity. Recess and organized sports usually help cover the bases for younger children. But, when kids grow older and develop interests, many become more sedentary. Parents and guardians should encourage activities that require moving around. Better yet, make it a family affair! Spend a Saturday hiking in nature or go on a walk downtown. Fly kites, rake the leaves, go swimming, or play tag together. In addition to a daily 60 minutes of aerobic activity, kids should make sure that 3 of those days include vigorous aerobic activities or muscle-strengthening activities.
For adults - 150 minutes a week!
Now, what about the busy, busy adults? The American Heart Association and the Center for Disease Control recommend that adults fit in 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate aerobic activity across the week. Less than 30 minutes a day! Which is far less daunting, right? However, it should be noted that this is a base requirement for a heart-healthy lifestyle. To gain more benefits from being active, adults should aim for at least 300 minutes (5 hours) of aerobic activity per week. Additionally, 2 days out of the week should feature moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities, such as resistance or weights.
Where do you start?
A journey to better health begins where you are most comfortable. You may not be able to fit in that 30 to 60 minutes of activity a day just yet. But setting aside 10 minutes for a walk today, and maybe 15 tomorrow, is a great way to begin. Set reachable and realistic goals for both your physical capabilities and your schedule. Then work from there, adding to your goals little by little as you grow stronger and find more areas in your week where you can get active.
Also, do not let all-or-nothing thinking stop you. No one has to be an experienced hiker or an expert in the gym. And the simplest way to get moving and improve your health is to just start walking. A brisk walk is free, easy, and can be done just about anywhere. Any amount of movement is better than none. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!