How much exercise is enough?

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Q:  I don’t enjoy team sports and have managed to stay in pretty good shape doing 30-40 minutes of fast walking 5 days a week, regardless of the weather.  At the end of my walks, I do about 10 minutes of light weights. I have done this for over 20 years and while I know regular exercise is important for my mental and physical health, I wonder if I am doing enough to enjoy those benefits. Nicole

A: Dear Nicole: Congratulations on your long term commitment to an active lifestyle.  Research clearly shows regular physical activity is an effective way of reducing your risk of developing a wide variety of serious medical conditions regardless of your age, gender or ethnic background.  These benefits include reducing your risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and obesity.  People who exercise regularly enjoy greater fitness, have increased strength, generally function at a higher level and enjoy increased mental health.  All these benefits are very desirable and scientists have spent many years trying to determine how much physical activity is needed to experience them.

The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, ParticipACTION and several other organizations got together to address how much exercise people actually need to do.  After extensively reviewing the research they produced “The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines” to give people some straight forward guidance on their physical activity needs.  They have developed separate guidelines for various age groups and all of them can be found at www.csep.ca. The recommendations for the 18-64 year old group are as follows:

  1. Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorously intense aerobic exercise/week.  Moderately intense activity will cause you to sweat a little and breathe harder – examples of this would include a brisk walk or a bike ride.  Vigorously intense activity will cause you to sweat a lot and be out of breath – examples of this would include running or cross country skiing;
  2. Exercise sessions should be 10 minutes or longer; and
  3. Adults should also do muscle and bone strengthening exercises at least twice/week – this would include weight lifting, calisthenics, Pilates and yoga.

The bottom line: The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines provide recommendations on the minimum amount of exercise people need to do to enjoy the many benefits exercise has to offer.  The great news is that your workout routine meets all those criteria.  Keep up the great work. Exercise is medicine!

Dr. Darrell Menard O.M.M. MD, Dip Sport Med

Dr. Menard is the Surgeon General’s specialist advisor in sports medicine and has worked extensively with athletes from multiple sports.  As part of the Strengthening the Forces team he works on injury prevention and promoting active living.

Strengthening the Forces is CAF/DND’s healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being.

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