Purpose: Learn more about physical activity, why it’s important for good health, and how to get started.
Time to read: 15 minutes
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Getting regular physical activity is one of the cornerstones of improving your health, but it’s also something we often struggle with. The good news is that you don’t have to be a gym rat or start running marathons – studies show that we start seeing health benefits with small increases in movement throughout the day.
Increasing your physical activity can have a positive impact on all aspects of your health, from bones to your brain.
Here are some of the benefits of physical activity:
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is a report that looks at the most recent scientific findings about physical activity and gives recommendations about the types and amount of physical activity we need to maintain or improve our health.
In the most recent edition, the recommendation for the average American adult is to get 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. You can also do a combination of both throughout the week if you prefer to mix it up. Don’t worry, we’ll go over the difference between the two.
The key is getting in regular movement throughout your day and week. You can split up that 150 minutes into more manageable chunks of time, especially if you’re just starting out.
As far as what exercises to do, the best type is something you enjoy doing! The more you enjoy an activity the more likely you are to keep with it. You can always ramp up an activity’s intensity so that it fits within the moderate-intensity category.
Let’s dig more into the difference between moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
Physical activity is defined as anything that moves your body. This could include things like walking, taking the stairs, stretching, dancing, or even doing household chores.
Aerobic activity is a type of activity that gets your heart rate up and can improve how your heart functions. Your heart is also a muscle, so think of this type of activity as strengthening that muscle.
When aerobic activity is done at a moderate-intensity, your heart will beat faster and you’ll breathe harder than normal, but you should still be able to talk. This is where the “talk test” example comes from. You can check in on the level of aerobic activity you are doing and its intensity by seeing if you are able to talk comfortably or if you are able to sing while doing the activity. Follow these steps below to determine what level of intensity you are at:
Low-intensity: You are able to sing or carry on a conversation without strain.
Moderate-intensity: You are able to still carry on a conversation but are not able to sing.
Vigorous-intensity: You aren’t able to carry on a conversation without pausing and taking a moment to catch your breath.
Some examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include:
Some examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include:
If you’re just starting out, you might find that some typical moderate-intensity activities fall more into the “vigorous” category of the talk test, and that’s okay! The more you do them, the easier it will get.
When we first start to increase our physical activity, we might fall into some common traps or myths:
MYTH 1: “I can eat more now because I’m burning more calories.”
It can be easy to fall into the “calories in, calories out” trap, but thinking in this way can encourage us to overeat or get obsessive. You don’t need to “earn” your food. Besides, it takes 22 minutes of running to burn off a single chocolate bar! Physical activity offers so much more than burning calories, it has endless benefits.
MYTH 2: “Physical activity isn’t helping me, I’m not seeing any weight loss or changes to my body.”
Even though the impact on your weight or body might be hard to see, try to remember that any physical activity you are doing is supporting your body in so many other ways. Many of these changes aren’t noticeable when looking at our external appearance, especially at first. Try to track ‘non-scale victories’ to see your improvement. This can be things like walking longer or farther distances, lifting more weight, or reaching a little farther in a stretch.
MYTH 3: “I got 30-minutes of exercise this morning, so I don’t need to move for the rest of the day.”
Studies show the longer we sit, the worse it is for our health, even if we did get some exercise in. If you’re an early morning exerciser, that’s great! It’s still beneficial to your overall health to get in periodic movement throughout the day. This can be anything from a stretching session to a brief 5-minute walk during a break from meetings.
It can be challenging to get active. People who successfully increase their activity are able to do so because they learn how to overcome obstacles, not because they have more willpower or determination.
For example, let’s say your goal is “I will walk for 20 minutes in the evening.” What’s going to prevent you from sticking to that plan? Are you headed into winter and it’s dark outside? What are some ways to overcome this? Here are some examples:
Brainstorm what you feel like your challenges might be, even if they seem very small, and what steps you can take to overcome them.
Here are some common challenges that people face and some ways to overcome them:
I don’t have time
Find ways to get small amounts of movement throughout the day, instead of exercising for a long period of time. Some examples are:
I can’t get to the gym
No gym required! There are many ways you can stay active without having to go to the gym for a workout. Some examples are:
I travel a lot
Travel can cause a lot of disruption to our routines, so if you’re a frequent traveler you’ll need to be a bit creative. Here are some tips:
I don’t have the energy or I just don’t feel like it
It can be hard to exercise when you feel tired or unmotivated. Keep in mind that regular physical activity can actually help improve your energy levels, both in the short-term and long-term. Here are some other tips if this is a common challenge for you:
I want to spend time with my family
Get them involved! Let them know that this is important to you and you’d like them to join. Here are some ideas for bonding time that also gets you moving:
Before you get started, you’ll want to check with your healthcare provider and get cleared to increase your physical activity. This is especially important if:
Once you’re cleared, here’s a few more things to keep in mind.
as of September 2023. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Masters degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University.
Always be sure to reach out to your healthcare team when making changes to your diet or lifestyle. There are certain conditions and medications that need to be considered.