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How Much Exercise Is Enough?

How Much Exercise is Enough?

The Institute of Medicine's new stand on physical activity succeeded in one sense -- it sure raised a few heart rates.


The private advisory group's call for 60 minutes of physical activity each day seemed to double the Surgeon General's guideline of 30 minutes of exercise most days. The new advice was meant to get people moving, but some experts were moved to gripe.


"The concern is that individuals will see this call for 60 minutes and think, 'My gosh, now it's 60 and I can't even do 30,'" says Edward T. Howley, Ph.D., president of the American College of Sports Medicine. "Sedentary individuals might be dissuaded from physical activity altogether."


But scientists who came up with the advice say the dispute is an exercise in confusion.


The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is part of the National Academy of Sciences, created by the federal government to act as an independent adviser on scientific matters. In a study on diet, an IOM panel looked at the number of calories thousands of people burn each day. It found that folks with a healthy body weight take part in about an hour of activity a day while sticking to a sensible diet.


The panel measured all calories burned -- everything from low-intensity movement such as climbing stairs to high-intensity exercise such as tennis. So the recommendation isn't based on a solid hour of exercise. You can count short sessions through the day with varied intensity levels. The standard, though, is 60 minutes total of moderately intense activity, such as walking 3 to 4 miles per hour.


"People are confusing physical activity with exercise," says IOM panel member George Brooks, Ph.D., a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley. "If you walk to work, if you use the stairs, that is physical activity. If you go for a half-hour run, that's vigorous exercise, and it will be about the energy equivalent of walking briskly for an hour. So it's really a refinement of the Surgeon General's report."


The 60-minute advice is aimed at weight control. It does not rule out health benefits from lesser levels of activity. Studies show that 30 minutes of moderate activity a day lowers your risk of heart disease and diabetes.


If you're sedentary, 30 minutes of moderate activity is a good goal, says I-Min Lee, Sc.D., associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She found in one study that as little as an hour of walking a week halved the heart disease risk in a group of sedentary, middle-aged women. Still, she recommends more than that. "Thirty minutes of moderate activity per day still represents the low end of the scale, which should be the goal if you are sedentary."


So your needs depend on your goals:

• If you want to keep your heart healthy and help fend off diabetes, 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week should do.

• If you want to reap those benefits and watch your weight, follow the 60-minute advice.

• If you want to lose weight, you must exceed the 60-minute level, or keep up that activity level while taking in fewer calories.


Any movement that raises your heart rate counts. To burn more calories, try higher-intensity activities like jogging or swimming.


Don't let confusion keep you on the couch. "Some people might say, 'I'm not going to exercise until [the scientists] get it right,' and that's not what we want," Dr. Lee says.



Get the lead out


You can build physical activity into sedentary situations.


Desk jobs: Take the stairs, not the elevator. Walk to a co-worker's office rather than phoning. Take a walk (10 to 30 minutes) during your lunch hour. Get up, stretch and move at least once an hour.


Autos: Walk instead of driving for short trips. When driving, park farther away from your destination instead of looking for the closest parking space. Wash the car yourself rather than using an automatic car wash.


TV: Work out on a stationary bike or treadmill while you watch. Get rid of the remote control. Replace a half-hour of viewing each day with exercise.



Burning calories


Calories burned in half an hour by a 150-pound adult:


Basketball 288


Gardening 162


Golf (no cart) 198


Raking lawn 162


Running (11.5 min/mile) 324


Step aerobics 252


Swimming 216


Tennis 252


Walking (3.5 mph) 144


Washing car 162

Wellness Library Health Ink and Vitality Communications © 2016


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