Our dietitians answer your top questions about exercise and fitness

  • 2 Minutes Read

Are you aware of the current guidelines for exercise and fitness? Learn about the benefits of aerobic exercise for weight loss and more.

Exercise and fitness

Common exercise and fitness questions and answers

What is aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise, or cardio exercise, stimulates the heart rate and breathing rate to pump oxygenated blood to muscles during activity. Regular aerobic exercise makes your heart and lungs stronger. It also helps prevent or greatly reduce the risk of diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, and osteoporosis.

How much aerobic exercise is enough?

150 minutes per week (30 min. x 5 days) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
OR
75 minutes or more per week (25 min. x 3 days) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
OR
An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

These guidelines are for adults and are from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The purpose of having a guideline for aerobic activity is to lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes or help manage those conditions. This post focuses on aerobic exercise and fitness for health versus guidelines for athletic training. Guidelines for children and teens are higher-about 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day!

Can I just exercise on the weekend to get it over with?

Any amount of exercise is better than none at all, but it is best to be active most days of the week. This is especially important if you strive to manage diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and weight. So enjoy your game of golf on the weekend, but exercise during the weekdays, too.

Is it better to exercise for longer periods once per day or shorter periods multiple times per day?

Both strategies can help you reach your goal, and research supports either approach for health. Aim for at least 10 minutes of continuous aerobic activity at a time if you are unable to exercise for longer periods. For example, you could walk briskly for 10 minutes, 3 times per day. Or you could ride a bicycle twice a day for 15 minutes at a time. If you have the time and physical fitness for 30 minutes or more of continuous activity, then do that.

What is vigorous-intensity exercise?

Vigorous exercise causes your heart rate to rise to 70% to 85% of its maximal rate and feels like you are working "very hard," pushing yourself to continue. Using the example above, a 53-year-old would exercise at a heart rate within 117 BPM-142 BPM. You can use a target heart rate calculator to determine your age-specific target heart rate.

Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise include basketball, soccer, bicycling faster than 10 MPH, chopping wood, running, and swimming.

I take a beta-blocker for my heart. Do I still follow those heart rate goals?

Probably not. If you take a medication that lowers your heart rate, then standard guidelines will likely be too high for you. Ask your doctor for an appropriate target heart rate range. It might also be safer to assess intensity using BORG's Ratings of Perceived Exertion rather than heart rate.

What if I haven't exercised in 20 years?

If you are out of shape but want to start exercising again, be smart, and gradually build up strength and aerobic endurance over time. This is especially important for older adults, those with neuromuscular conditions, or anyone with a history of physical injuries. A physical therapist might be the best person to help you with an exercise plan

How much exercise for weight loss?

If you need to lose weight, then the goal is to create a caloric deficit. Calorie intake must be less than your total calories expended from all sources. Ideally, create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories and exercising according to health guidelines. Unless you are an athlete in training, going gangbusters with high-intensity workouts as the sole means to create a calorie deficit is simply not practical. For the healthiest body and mind, do both for weight control.

If you use a tracker, you can determine the calorie deficit needed to reach your goal weight. MyNetDiary is designed for weight control, with or without an exercise plan. But in terms of health, it is important to include regular exercise.

What about guidelines from a fitness organization's perspective?

I highly recommend the American College of Sports Medicine's position statement, "Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise." Their guidelines are consistent with those from other health organizations. Still, they go into more detail about the various types of exercise to include in a program.

Reviewed and updated on October 13, 2020, by Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDES

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Exercise->Aerobic & Cardio Exercise->Health
Oct 30, 2020
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

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