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How Much Exercise is Enough?

separator A lot of us feel pretty good if we can add up the time we spend on daily activity and get to a total of 30 minutes. “Okay,” we think, “I’ve gotten my daily exercise.” But a new report doesn’t let you off that easily. In the fall, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which says its mission is “to advance and disseminate scientific knowledge to improve human health,” issued a report urging people to get 60 minutes of exercise per day.

How the Institute defines “exercise”
The IOM defines exercise as an activity that increases your breathing level to the point where conversation is “labored” and you sweat on days that it’s not cold. So that probably rules out the time you spend walking your dog (unless your dog is walking you), the five minutes you spend walking from your parking space into the mall, your 10 minutes folding laundry…you get the idea.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do those things too. It just means you should do more. 

The reasoning behind the recommendations
When you read about ways to decrease your risk of chronic, serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cardiovascular disease, one of the recommendations is to lead an active lifestyle. According to the IOM, getting 60 minutes of exercise a day can help prevent weight gain and lead to that active lifestyle that provides so many health benefits. And the IOM makes it clear that the 60-minute recommendation applies to children as well as adults.

Part of the reason why we need to spend so much time exercising these days is that we lead more sedentary lifestyles than ever before. Children don’t walk or ride their bikes to school as much as they used to, and many school systems have cut back on time for physical activity during the school day. More adults have sedentary jobs, more have cars than ever before and people work longer hours than they used to. It’s no surprise that obesity is increasing, and along with it, cases of diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood fats levels, heart disease, etc.

The IOM also notes that regular physical activity can improve your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and that people of all ages and ethnicities can benefit.

Is an hour realistic?
The U.S. government has been encouraging people to exercise since the 1950s. During the administration of President Eisenhower, health and fitness professionals noted that America’s children were in fairly poor physical condition. Various organizations and presidential administrations described the need for increased exercise to prevent many chronic diseases. In 1996, the US surgeon general issued a report saying that people should exercise 30 minutes a day most days of the week. And now we’re up to 60.

Is it possible for most of us to get with the 60-minute program? Only you can answer that question for yourself. It’s certainly easier for some people than others. Those with full-time jobs and young children usually find it challenging to fit in exercise time. People who work a lot of hours per week have trouble too.

We can all find reasons why it’s hard to fit in exercise time. It takes a lot of schedule juggling and willingness to turn off the television, get out of the office, get off the couch, get out of the car. If you can’t fit in an hour per day, every day, you can still probably fit in some time for activity most days if you make it a priority. Swap childcare with friends, get on the treadmill when you watch television, go the gym before you go home from work….

Only you know how to give it your best shot.

Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients),” 2002; Panel Urges Hour of Exercise a day; Sets Dietary Guidelines, The New York Times, 6 September 2002.
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