The standard exercise recommendation, based on a major study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is that you need to work out 60 minutes a day, seven days a week, in order to prevent weight gain. Such a high number can deter a lot of people who have a hard enough time staying motivated to get 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, which is what the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and other health organizations recommend to maintain one's weight and get basic health benefits.
Finding any time to exercise can seem challenging. But the key to sticking with a fitness plan may not be finding the time to fit exercise into a busy schedule, says Michael Bracko, EdD, an exercise physiologist in Canada. Instead, he says, it's finding out what you enjoy and what motivates you—an overlooked aspect of fitness. "Almost every fitness organization and every health organization has some type of guideline or statement or position on what they think would be the appropriate amount of exercise, but a lot of times, it's rather sterile," he says. "It doesn’t take into account fitness personalities." A lot of people associate "exercise" with a sweaty 30-minute run or a 45-minute weight-lifting session at the gym, he adds, but "exercise" can mean any sort of enjoyable physical activity that gets your heart rate up. You don't even have to cram it all into one session. He says that many studies have shown that you can burn the same—and sometimes more—calories if you break your activity into smaller 10- or 15-minute segments. "It all depends on how many calories you're burning, and you get the same benefits no matter how you burn them," he says.
Bracko says there are four basic types of fitness, and finding which one fits your personality and interests could be the key to staying fit, healthy, and a few pounds lighter:
• Functional fitness. Gardening, golfing, walking the dog, cleaning the house, raking leaves, and bowling are all examples of "functional fitness" exercise, and are great for people just starting an exercise plan or for older adults who want to stay active. "You don't go out into your garden for 15 minutes," he says. "You garden for 2 hours. That's a lot of activity—a lot of squats, a lot of standing up and down—it's a lot of movement." He adds that exercises like these are great for older people because they help with activities of daily living, such as getting into and out of the tub and reaching for items up high in a cabinet. Try to find some functional activity to do each day of the week, and you'll easily get the recommended 30 minutes per day, if not more.
• Health-related fitness. This category includes yoga, tai chi, and even walking, each of which helps improve your overall well-being. Often, people drawn to health-related types of fitness have been told by a doctor that they have some health issue that needs to be addressed, such as overweight or high blood pressure, and need to exercise more. "These exercises are best for the person who has realized that they want to do something with exercise but they really just don't like high-intensity exercise," Bracko says. These forms of exercise are relatively easy, he says, and don't cause you to sweat a lot. But they do require movement, are good for all ages, and maybe most important, burn calories.
• Physical fitness. Gym rats fall into this category. It's the sort of fitness that encompass what most people associate with "exercise": cardio sessions with a little bit of weight lifting and flexibility training thrown in. "This would be the person who is able to engage in higher-intensity exercise," Bracko says. "They're pretty motivated to exercise because it makes them feel stronger, and they realize that it's a really important part of their physical and mental health."
• Recreational athlete fitness. People who have a dedicated focus on a particular sport will benefit from some recreational fitness. For instance, you're watching your kid's swim meet and decide you want to learn to swim competitively, or you decide you might like to learn tennis now that the weather is warming up. People don't need any experience in a sport to fit into this category, Bracko says, just the interest and motivation to learn.
Once you figure out where you fit into the spectrum of fitness and exercise personality, it'll be much easier to get in those 30—and even 60—minutes of exercise a day. The most important thing, says Bracko, is that you do what you enjoy. "Just get out and move. Go for a hike, go play."
Published on: April 19, 2010