It has been called the miracle drug – inexpensive and easy to access, with many benefits.
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your body. Studies show it reduces the chance of adult onset diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and colon cancer. Exercise is great for mental health too, improving mood, increasing energy, and reducing depression.
Despite the many benefits, Canadians still struggle to get enough physical activity. In fact, more than half do not meet the recommended guideline of 150 minutes of activity per week.
Increasing technology has had an effect on our health. Canadians aged 18 to 79 are inactive for an average of 10 hours per day, not including sleep! It is no surprise that a common reason for not exercising is simply a lack of time.
An exercise prescription
How much exercise is enough? For adults over age 18, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. For children and youth aged five to 17 years, at least 60 minutes a day are recommended.
Want to give it a try? The first step is to get moving. Your doctor may help you develop an exercise prescription, or refer you to someone in your community who can assist. An exercise prescription (plan) tells you all you need to know about how to get moving. It includes the types of exercise you should do, for how long, and at what intensity. The FITT acronym is an easy way to remember this principle.
The FITT Principle
|FITT =||• Frequency
Try to be active most days of the week. Longer, less frequent exercise sessions have no advantage over shorter, more regular exercise sessions. Even 10-minute periods of exercise spread over the day can help.
Set aside at least two days a week to do muscle and bone strengthening activities that use major muscle groups.
Aim for physical activities of moderate intensity that make you sweat a little and breathe harder. For instance, try brisk walking, cycling and swimming.
An easy way to measure intensity is the talk test. You should be able to carry on a conversation with the person next to you while exercising. If you need to stop to catch your breath, you are probably working too hard.
A Perceived Rate of Exertion Scale is another way of monitoring intensity. This scale asks you to rate how hard you feel you are working on a scale from zero to 10. If you work at a 10, this would feel like near exhaustion. Research shows that if you rate yourself somewhere between three and seven, this correlates with a 50 to 80 per cent maximum heart rate.
Adults aged 18 and over should try to accumulate at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. This could be as easy as 30 minutes daily for five days of the week. Remember, if you do not have time for a 30-minute workout in a day, you can break it up into 10-minute sessions.
Studies show that obese and overweight adults accumulate less time in moderate to vigorous physical activity per day compared to normal weight adults. Adults of normal weight spend an average of 27 minutes per day engaging in physical activity. Overweight adults spend an average of 21 minutes per day, and obese adults just 16 minutes per day.
It is important to choose an activity that you enjoy. If you love the outdoors, go hiking or ride your bike. If exercising alone is hard, try group fitness classes at your local gym.
Be sure to vary the kinds of exercise you do. Aim for at least three days a week of exercises that improve your heart health, such as brisk walking. Do muscle and bone strengthening activities using all major muscle groups at least two days of the week.
Remember to include balance and flexibility exercises. They are especially important in reducing the risk of falls as we age. To begin, borrow a yoga DVD from your local library or join a Tai Chi class.
Starting an exercise program can be scary at first. However, many people in your community can help you get on the right track. Discuss ways to bring more activity into your day with your family doctor. Here are a few ideas:
Keep the FITT principle in mind when you start your exercise program. Use it as a guide to encourage you. Remember, even 10-minute periods of physical activity are helpful. Start slowly, and build up. Finally, make your family doctor part of your team. This will be the best prescription your doctor ever writes for you.