Exercise guidelines for health and weight loss

by Ali on June 19, 2008

This is the eighth part of the dieting basics series — all the earlier posts are linked to from the series introduction.

As with the recommended daily calorie intake, the amount of exercise that individuals needs varies. The guidelines given by the government and by health organisations are usually minimum levels of activity – but even so, many people fail to reach these. And, just like calorie intake, there have been concerns recently that the guideline levels may be incorrect.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) used to suggest: “Thirty minutes of moderate exercise, most days of the week.”

However, there were concerns both from ACSM and from the British equivalent (The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (Bases)) that people were misinterpreting these guidelines. In particular, many “lifestyle activities” – housework, walking, light gardening – were being incorrectly counted as part of the thirty minutes.

Your thirty minutes of exercise should be:

  • Done at a moderate intensity (should leave you slightly out of breath)
  • In addition to “normal” daily activity such as doing laundry, popping to the corner shop, or walking round the office.

The guideline has also been modified to “Thirty minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week” (for those of us kidding ourselves that three days counts as “most”).

And if you really don’t have much time, you can instead do “Twenty minutes of vigorous exercise, three days a week” – that could mean, for example, a quick high-intensity cardio workout in the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday lunchtimes.

If you’re trying to lose weight, though, the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK recommends doing “Sixty minutes of moderate exercise, most days of the week” rather than thirty.

The ACSM suggest distinguishing between moderate and vigorous using the “talk test” like this:

One of the simplest ways to rate intensity is the ‘talk test’. If one is exercising hard enough to notice that one is breathing harder, but is still able to speak in complete sentences comfortably, then that is ‘moderate’ intensity. It should be a level that can be easily maintained for at least 30 minutes. A ‘vigorous’ intensity is one that makes it difficult to speak in complete sentences, but that can still be maintained continuously for several minutes.

There’s no ideal goal or maximum exercise limit; the majority of us with desk-based jobs could certainly afford to move around a bit more! If you are going to be exercising for more than 30 minutes at a vigorous intensity, though, make sure you do have a snack beforehand – and keep hydrated.

How much exercise should children do?

If you have kids, bear in mind that they need more exercise than adults. The minimum requirement for them is an hour a day and many experts recommend 90 minutes. If you have kids, don’t assume that they’ll be getting this exercise in the school day – most schools only allow a couple of hours for sport each week, and often only twenty to thirty minutes of that time will be spent running around (the rest will be getting changed, watching demonstrations, and so on.)

If at all possible, walk or cycle your kids to school – you and they will benefit – and enjoy some activity together as a family at the weekends.

Don’t miss out on the next part of this series “Exercise: Getting started, staying motivated, seeing improvements” — get updates to your feed reader today!

(Image above by lab2112)

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