Questions & Answers about Aerobic Exercise for Health

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This post focuses on aerobic exercise for health versus guidelines for athletic training.

Questions & Answers about Aerobic Exercise for Health

This post focuses on aerobic exercise for health versus guidelines for athletic training.

How much aerobic exercise is enough?

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

These guidelines are for adults and are from the American Heart Association, and 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, as well as to help manage those conditions. 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 better to be active most days of the week. This is especially important if you are trying to manage diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and your 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 for 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 bike ride 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 will cause your heart rate to rise to 70% - 85% of its maximal rate and will feel like you are working "very hard" and have to push yourself to continue. Using the example above, the 53 year old would exercise at a heart rate within 117 BPM - 142 BPM.

Common forms of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise include basketball, soccer, bicycling faster than 10 MPH, chopping wood, running, swimming,

Is that maximal heart rate estimation accurate?

The "220 - age in years" rule of a thumb for estimating maximal heart rate is a crude estimate and yours could be lower or higher. If you need to have an accurate maximal heart rate assessment, get it tested at a sports medicine center or a cardiac rehab facility. For instance, many endurance athletes have a higher maximal heart rate - this means that their heart rate range for moderate and vigorous intensity exercise will be higher than other people.

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 ask your doctor for an appropriate target heart rate range since standard guidelines will likely be too high for you. Also, it might be safer to assess intensity by 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: calories intake must be less than your total calories expended from all sources (i.e. basal metabolism + thermogenesis + physical activity). Ideally, create the calories deficit by consuming fewer calories and exercising according to health guidelines. Notes that a strong and concerted focus to consume fewer calories is extremely important for overweight adults. Unless you are an athlete in training, going gangbusters with high intensity workouts as the sole means to create a calories deficit is simply not practical. For the healthiest body and mind, do both for weight control.
If you use a tracker, then you can determine the calories deficit needed to reach your goal weight. MyNetDiary and other food and exercise trackers are designed for weight control, with or without an exercise plan. But in terms of health, it is important to include regular exercise.

Tip: when tracker use is not accounted for, research finds that 250-300 minutes per week of moderate aerobic intensity exercise is related to be better weight control.

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 but they go into more detail about the various types of exercise to include in a program.

Exercise->Aerobic & Cardio Exercise->Health
Oct 9, 2015
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

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