How much exercise do I really need to do, to be healthy?

In today’s Wednesday wisdom post, we are going to look at one of the most commonly asked questions – how much exercise do I really need to do, to be healthy?  Let’s start with the most important part of this question, how much exercise is needed to be healthy, not to lose weight as that is a very different question! What is our best indicator of health, without knowing this we can’t answer this question. When it comes to the health benefits of exercise, arguably the best indicator of your health is V02 Max or your maximum oxygen consumption. V02 Max is a strong predictor of your life expectancy, the risk of chronic disease and your mental wellbeing, so if we really wanted to be healthy, improving your Vo2 max should be the major objective.  Most leading health authorities recommend your accumulate 150 minutes per minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity which can be described as any activity that raises your respiration rate to a point that you can talk, but not sing!  

Sounds easy enough? It’s not quite that simple, for decades researchers have reported the struggle most western world community members have in reaching this target. For example, in 2008 the centres for disease and control and prevention reported a quarter of the American population had not done any moderate-intensity physical activity at all! Closer to home, here in Australia, the figures are just as dire. The results of the 2017 Australian Health Survey revealed almost 15% of 18-64 year olds surveyed do no physical activity at all. Putting this into context, it would only take an additional 15 minutes of brisk walking, Monday to Fridays (five days) to reduce the chronic disease Burdon by approximately 13%. 

Ok, so if we agree getting enough exercise is important, but like all of us in this modern age, want to take the shortest path we might then argue that we don’t need to 150 minutes per week if we undertake high-intensity exercise? Famous documentary host Micheal Mosely might agree, it wasn’t that long ago that he showed a few relatively short bursts of high-intensity exercise, roughly equal to a few minutes per week (3 minutes to be exact) can result in the same health benefits that would be achieved by regularly undertaking 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity. 

As always the best answer on how much exercise you really need to do, to be health comes down to personal choice, behavioural scientists tell us that the likelihood of maintaining an exercise routine over a long period of time is significantly reduced if you do not ENJOY it, so if you think everyone will love the idea of doing a gut-busting 3 minutes of high-intensity exercise, think again! The known health benefits of high-intensity training have been known to the public for some time, yet we have not seen a corresponding increase in physical activity levels worldwide?  Moderate intensity for many will be the preferred option, given it is far more comfortable. However, given the time demands are larger, it is really important to find an engaging activity, that is where skill acquisition can come in, presenting newcomers to exercise with a skill challenge, is likely to elicit at least a moderate intensity response and at the same time, help develop new motor skills, a real win-win. In the end, the individual will need to decide, however offering options is always a great way to get client buy-in, you just need to be prepared to be flexible. 

 

References: 

  1. Haskell, W. L., Blair, S. N., & Hill, J. O. (2009). Physical activity: health outcomes and importance for public health policy. Preventive medicine49(4), 280-282. 
  2. Michael Mosley presents Horizon: The Truth About Exercise. Tuesday 28 February 2012 
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013 – Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12. ABS Catalogue number 4364.0.55.004
     

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