How Often Should We Work Out?
Core - Edition Nº17
We all know we’re supposed to exercise to stay healthy. But how often do you actually need to hit the tennis court, head to your favourite kickboxing class, or unroll your yoga mat to get your home workout done each week?
Working out is more than trying to improve the way you look; it can boost your mood, diminish stress, prevent illness, and shape your overall well-being. And the best thing about exercising often is it’s easy to weave into your everyday life.
You could wake up and start the day with a few minutes of yoga, head out for a midday walk, then pop into an evening dance class or finish the day with a short core workout (using my guide, of course!).
To turn your intentions into steps toward a meaningful goal, a great starting point is knowing how much action you need to take in the first place. But, don’t let all the different answers you hear put you off. Rather, you’re the only one who decides how much is best for you.
Why exercise at all?
People take up exercise for one of these reasons:
How much exercise you need depends on your why, your starting point, and your timeline. And the type of exercise you select depends on your abilities, schedule, preferences, and the facilities at your disposal.
According to Harvard in 2009, as recently as the 1850s, around 30% of all energy used for agriculture and manufacturing in the United States relied on human power. But not anymore. Today, we rely less on people to complete the physical work, and the society of convenience and comfort we now live in demands much less physical activity—opening us up to disease and weaknesses that prevent us from extracting more from ourselves and making it harder to stay healthy.
I’ve always found it strange to see people search for the hidden cures in preventative medicine—when the remedy has been under our noses the whole time. Consistent exercise can protect us against heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, depression and dementia. And it takes less effort than you think.
Harvard says that the key to better health lies with isotonic exercise. These activities use your large muscle groups in a “rhythmic, repetitive fashion” and bypass working against heavy resistance. This form of exercise used to be named “aerobic” exercise as people believed it needed to be intense enough to elevate your heart rate into the “aerobic range” (70-85% of your maximum heart rate). Likewise, people also called it “endurance” training because they believed it needed to be a sustained effort (steady-state). None of these long-standing beliefs turned out to be true. You can get all the health benefits from moderate exercise—without the huffs and puffs.
The trick is to combine your daily activities with formal workouts and sports play. This mix creates a healthy balance between fun and having a professional structure that gives you great results. And to get even more out of it, add a few stretching and strength training sessions to your week. Two or three is fine.
While I’m not a personal trainer, my first and best recommendation is to steer away from any clocks, calendars, or pursuits in the beginning when I do offer guidance.
Have fun! People struggle to commit to exercise because their perception of it is all wrong. It’s easy for it to feel like an obligation, rather than something you do because you enjoy it. But while it’s essential for everyone to do some regular exercise, it doesn’t have to be a chore. And you can change that starting with how you look at it.
Exercise helps dissipate stress and alleviate your well-being. And if you say you’re “too busy to exercise”, then I’m sorry, you’re the problem. If your work threatens to overload your psyche, exercise is the remedy. For some people, that means a visit to the gym to run off some stress; for others, it’s a long walk to feel separated from it all. But don’t let exercise be the cause of your stress. Don’t see it as a burden, see it as an opportunity to take care of yourself.
I’ve been competing in different sports all my life. It doesn’t matter which sport I do; it’s the feeling I get from giving my best that I love the most.
Doing exercise for competitive reasons is a lot to ask from your body. And as you get older, it’s more essential to get assurance and medical clearance before starting anything intensive. But there are many ways to enjoy the competitive effects of exercise without straining yourself.
The best person you can ever compete against is yourself. So, set challenges against your previous bests and see how well you can improve week-on-week, month-on-month. It’s safer and gives you a reason to push for better.
Weight loss is most people’s goal. Moderate exercise will get you there—but for a faster, more impressive outcome, focus on increasing duration, followed by intensity.
You can’t choose where to lose weight, but you could mix walking, core training and heavy lifting (if possible) and find that you’re easily improving your overall weight.
The best practices start from within. Learn how to commit, stay disciplined and treat exercise as a reward and it will naturally guide you to take better care of yourself.
One thing to bear in mind, though, is that appearance-based goals usually take the longest, which reveals an unforgettable lesson to be learned. The longer you keep going, the better your gains get to compound.
More exercise? Less?
The short answer: do enough to meet your goals, wants and needs. At the end of the day, your health is a priority, but there’s no perfect amount of time that works for everyone. Choose the structure that best fits your schedule, your budget, your abilities, and your taste. Let the build-up be gradual and fun. And above all, stick with it. Exercise is nowhere near as much about ability as it is about consistency and continuous improvement.