Finding the “just right” amount of exercise

Avatar of author on treadmill depicting vigorous exercise
Avatar of author doing yoga depicting low to moderate exercise

Exercise, the Good and Not So Great!

We all know that exercise is good for us, but finding the “just right” amount can be difficult. Most of us need more exercise. To find out just how much check out my previous post on exercise here. Finding balance in your physical activity can help decrease overall stress levels.

I was intrigued by an article I read that discussed the pros and cons of exercise. Because exercise in our society is often billed as a more is better kind of thing this article got me thinking of something I had not previously considered in terms of exercise even though I talk about it with patients nearly every week. Finding a balance.

In their article The Goldilocks Zone for Exercise: Not Too Little, Not Too Much, authors James H. O’Keefe MD, Evan O’Keefe MS, and Carl J. Lavie MD discuss the right amount of exercise. These men have a knack for getting to the heart of the matter which kind of makes sense since the two MDs are affiliated with cardiovascular centers.

The Good

They discuss the benefits of physical activity on cardiovascular risk such as lowering of resting heart rate and blood pressure as well as improving lipid and glucose levels. They also mention the benefits on improving body mass index (BMI) as well as the reduction of emotional stress, improvement in sleep, and the encouragement of adopting other healthy behaviors (e.g. improving eating habits).

One of the mind blowing parts is their assertion that “a routine of regular exercise is associated with an increase in life expectancy of up to six years.” They go on to place further perspective around that assertion stating “If medical science discovered how to cure and/or prevent all cancer, the average life expectancy in the United States (US) would rise about 3.5 years.” I find that truly amazing and hopeful.

The Downside

The trick is finding the right amount of exercise. Not too little and not too much. They discuss that workouts of more than 60 minutes tend have a decline in benefit due to the enormous amounts of free radicals released during exercise Our bodies can’t clear it out fast enough and that puts us at higher risk of cardiovascular events. Of course factors like age, genetic risk, and other lifestyle choices impact this issue as well. And keep in mind that for every 20 Americans who are not meeting the exercise guideline there is just 1 who is overdoing exercise. Not exactly an epidemic of over exercising going on. But I like knowing that I don’t have to kill myself 7 days a week in order to get the benefits of physical activity.

Back to the Good

I was relieved to see that even as little as 50 minutes a week of strenuous exercise conferred benefit. They also looked at studies of indigenous people who typically get 16,000 steps per day attending to life activities. They found that when physical activity occurs through the day in light and moderate intensity there is no upper limit as there is with more strenuous activity! This is comparable to taking a brisk walk, gardening, doing housework, golf or racket sports, and even bowling.

And in terms of weight “for overweight or obese individuals, physical fitness is an important predictor of longevity, whereas weight loss is not.” As a curvy woman who has always carried a few more pounds this is music to my ears.

Finding Balance

To find balance consider engaging in the following:

  • Moderate intensity physical activity 150 minutes per week
    • OR
  • Moderate intensity physical activity for 75 minutes a week.
  • Limit sitting for longer than 30 minutes
  • Add physical activity if you are sedentary
  • Reducing physical activity if you are overactive (450 minutes a week or more).
    • Changing to low impact activities such as yoga or walking
  • Adding more low to moderate intensity physical activity to your life
  • Take at least 1 day off a week from vigorous exercise

How can you add balance to your physical activity?

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