Let’s not make things more complicated than they need to be.
What type of exercise is best? The one you’ll do regularly! It should include these:
- You enjoy it…
- It’s accessible (you don’t have to travel far to do it)…
- It doesn’t involve a huge investment of cash (unless you have a lot of cash, of course)…
- It can include others, if social exercise is important to you…
It’s probably even better to choose 2 or 3 different types of exercise that fit that criteria — especially if they work out different muscle groups.
It’s also important, if at all possible, to choose at least one that’s weight-bearing — meaning you’re on your feet. That’s important for bone strength, especially as we get older.
When we’re told “30 minutes of moderate exercise a day” or “75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week” what do they mean? Let’s take a look at some of the recommendations…
What are “moderate” exercises?
Brisk walking — 3 miles per hour or faster (but not race-walking)…a 20 minute mile pace. Biking less than 10 miles/hour. Doubles tennis. Ballroom dancing. Water aerobics. Even general gardening.
150 minutes a week of any of those will contribute “substantial” health benefits in several areas. It’s better to spread the exercise out throughout the week (5 30-minute sessions). Each session can even be split, as long as each is at least 10 minutes long.
Even better? Up to 300 minutes — an hour for five days out of your week will contribute even more benefits to your overall health.
I’ve heard for years that we need at least three workouts a week. Stacking the minutes into only one or two days and the benefits are not nearly the same. I don’t know why that works, but somehow it does.
What are “vigorous” exercises?
Racewalking, jogging or running. Swimming laps. Singles tennis. Biking faster than 10 miles/hour. Hiking uphill or with a heavy pack. Gardening that includes hoeing or digging…basically anything that raises your heart rate enough so it’s harder to carry on a conversation.
75 minutes a week of these is the minimum recommended. A good rule of thumb: 15 minutes of vigorous is worth 30 minutes of moderate. And combining the two is both more enjoyable and easier on our bodies as we get older.
300 minutes a week (an hour, 5 days a week) of a combo of moderate and vigorous can be a truly enjoyable and doable goal. The more we do, the more health benefits we reap. At least up to that 300-minute mark.
Include resistance training and stretching too
Part of those 150-300 minutes should include resistance or strength training a couple times a week. These are activities that work the major muscle groups like weight training, push-ups, squats, etc.
Flexibility is also important, especially the older we get. Good old-fashioned stretching exercises are great. Pilates is a combo of stretching and strengthening that’s really effective too.
A sample workout plan
As I write this, I’m still working on getting over a couple of issues with my right foot, so I haven’t been doing as much as I’d like to lately. Here’s my ideal schedule though:
- Monday/Wednesday/Saturday — run 3-4 miles. I’ve been using Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method for a couple years and love it! Later in the day I’ll try to take my dog for a 30-minute walk (I don’t run with her).
- Tuesday/Friday — 20 minute Pilates routine (includes stretching, core strengthening and toning with weights) and either a walk with my dog or a 30-45 minute bike ride.
- In the winter I love replacing my “cross days” (walking/biking) with cross-country skiing when we’ve got good snow.
Since I sit all day for my work, I like having an excuse to get back outside for some exercise mid-day, especially when the weather’s nice. It’s also great for getting some prayer time in, clearing my mind from work, or thinking through an idea for work, ministry or family.
Gym or no gym?
Personally, I hate working out in a gym. I’ve never owned a gym membership, but sometimes would use it when I was in college if the weather was terrible. I workout outside year-round, even through our Minnesota winters (other than Pilates, which I do in my living room).
If you’re a lap swimmer or need to be in a class in order to stay motivated, by all means get a gym membership. But don’t forget, there are many, many benefits of being outdoors too!
When my kids were little, I had little choice but to join a gym (with child care) or get a treadmill. We bought a treadmill, and I used that for many years until I could leave them home alone during my runs.
In these days of podcasts, iPods and streaming movies we’ve got all kinds of options to get us through those boring treadmill and stationary bike workouts!!
Other benefits beyond our health
One of my favorite things about being in shape at 50 is still being able to do all the outdoor activities I’ve always loved. Cross-country skiing. Canoeing — including the portaging we do up in northern Minnesota. Hiking a trail in the mountains on our vacation this summer. Shooting hoops in the driveway with my kids. Riding horses — bareback.
My husband and I are even on a laid-back softball “league” with a bunch of others from our church this summer. 85% of those we’re playing with are in their 20s — half our age! It’s so much fun to be able to play ball again and not worry whether I’ll be able to make it around the bases or pull something.
Sure I’m stiff for a few days (in fact, as I write this I’ve realized I overdid it this week! Feeling my age a bit…!). But I’m not laid up with back pain because I’m working out my core a couple times a week. I know I can run the bases because I just ran 3 miles the day before.
And I’m hoping these kids we’re playing with will have some incentive to want to be able to do these things when they’re our age too. Including our own kids!
So what’s your plan?
If you’re inactive today, just start with something. Gradually work up to 30 minutes five times a week. Do what you like. Connect with a family member, neighbor or friend and do something together. Get a dog so you have an excuse to walk — or come walk my dog! Her philosophy is: you can never go on too many walks.
Are you already active? Maybe you can try something new for some variety (when I had to take up some biking to give my feet a break, I found it wasn’t so bad after all!).
Really want an incentive? Sign up for a race, download a training plan and get to it. If you’re just getting started, sign up for a 5k. If that’d be too easy, go for a 10k or half marathon. Or a triathlon. Or a biathlon. They’re fun, many are for a good cause and you get a free t-shirt. 🙂
(Much of the info for this article I found in the “2008 Physical Activity Guide” published by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. You can download a pdf of the complete guide.)
Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.