Exercise: How much to do?

(Video Transcription)

Did you see on WRAL about a week and a half ago that Winston-Salem was rated the 18th most overweight city in America? I grew up about 25 minutes from Winston-Salem, and I thought, “This is almost my hometown and it’s number 18 in America in terms of being overweight.” I decided to say something about exercise in today’s video.

Today’s message is on exercise, and I want to give you some very quick, practical pointers on what to do and how much to do. Now first, the disclaimers: You should talk to your doctor to make sure that you are healthy enough for exercise. It’s actually a good piece of advice; you really should. Second, some health conditions are going to make the things that I say not really applicable, so take that with a grain of salt. Third, the things that I say are most applicable to middle adulthood and what researchers call the “young old.” With advancing age, the things that I say become less applicable.

Strength training two days a week

With those three caveats said, let’s talk about exercise. Here are the things that researchers tell us based on empirical data, not just from talking to some guy at the gym who looks like he’s in good shape. Based on researchers’ observations, you should do a combination of strength training (keeping your muscles strong) and cardio. For strength training, the recommendation is two days a week of upper body and lower body (leg) strength training. In terms of how much, a reasonable weight to lift is a weight that you can lift eight to ten times before the muscle really starts to fatigue and then you do a couple of sets of that and then move on to the next exercise. As you get stronger, you’ll find that the weight that you can lift eight to ten times goes up.

Cardiovascular exercise 150 minutes a week

With cardiovascular exercise, what you’re aiming for here is a total cumulative amount of energy expended doing cardiovascular exercise. What researchers have come up with is that if you do moderate exercise, you should do that for a total of about two and a half hours a week. If you do more intense exercise, you should aim to do that for at least an hour and 15, maybe an hour and a half per week.

Moderate vs intense definition

So what’s moderate and what’s intense exercise? For the purposes of what the researchers are talking about, moderate exercises are things like walking briskly, doing water aerobics, playing doubles tennis, carrying your golf bag as you play golf and walking the course. This is moderate exercise and you should aim to do these kinds of things for about two and a half hours per week. More intense exercise is things like singles tennis, going pretty hard on a stationary bike, jogging at a five- to six-mile-an-hour pace. This is more intensive exercise and you should aim to do this for an hour and 15 to an hour and a half per week.

If you achieve these things, then you start to get all of the good health benefits that come from exercise. So strength training at least two days a week (upper and lower body) and a cumulative total of cardiovascular that varies depending on how intensely you’re working out.

Exercise for weight loss

One last pointer, if losing weight is a primary goal for you, you probably need to increase by fifty to a hundred percent the amount of exercise that I said. I know that’s a lot, but you’ll make much greater strides with that than with doing less. As I always say to folks, do what’s feasible and try to pick an exercise that you like. If getting on the exercise bike is just a big chore, that’s going to be hard to keep that going.

I hope this has been helpful. For Sentinel Primary Care, I’m Dr. O’Connell.