This past November, government health experts updated exercise guidelines for the first time in a decade. Of course, I wasn’t expecting much of an improvement considering their long history of ignoring the science and doling out disastrous, misguided health advice.
So, it came as a bit of a surprise to me that the new recommendations about exercise were actually pretty sensible.
For one, they’ve begun to move away from the extreme approach that I call “excess-ercise.” Instead, they advise you to get moderate amounts of activity on a weekly (not daily) basis. And short bursts of activity around the house count toward your total. (Which gives you another reason to skip out on those damaging marathon trainings and overpriced gym memberships!)
I’ll tell you exactly how much weekly activity the government is now saying you need in a moment. But first, I want to discuss some of the very real dangers associated with excessive exercise…
Too much of a good thing DOES cause harm
As I often report, too much high-intensity exercise pushes the body past its normal limits. And it can damage your joints, kidneys, gastro-intestinal tract, urinary tract, and muscles — including your heart.
It can even harm your mental health. In fact, I recently reported on a major study that found excessive exercisers grapple with mental health struggles year-round.
Of course, many people swear extreme exercise improves mental health. And they cite the “runner’s high” as an example.
But that runner’s high is fleeting. And there’s a biological explanation for that temporary bump in mood…and it isn’t good….
When you subject your body to extreme exercise, you’ll feel pain and distress at some point. It’s your brain’s way of telling you to wise up and ease up a bit.
But if you persist through the discomfort, you may begin to feel better — even euphoric.
This natural high comes from the release of endorphins (natural opioids) that your body uses to help ease the pain when you push it too far.
These endorphins are a remarkable, natural gift, designed to help you survive a life or death situation in emergencies. They allow you to temporarily exceed your limits and to fight or flee the lethal circumstances.
But deadening your senses so you can abuse your body on a regular, daily basis ultimately harms — instead of helps — your long-term physical health.
Now, onto the government’s new recommendations…
Every little bit DOES count
In the past, experts led us to believe that in order to exercise we needed to run marathons, spend hours in dark, stinky gyms “pumping iron,” or clog up the public roadways riding mile after mile on a bike.
This advice both intimidated and discouraged many people who don’t suffer from excess-ercise derangement syndrome. And that might help explain why only 20 percent of Americans actually get enough exercise.
But the science — and now, the new federal guidelines — recognize that a moderate amount of normal, routine activity does the trick. And according to Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, a specialist in preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, “doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Plus, we now know that you don’t have to exercise for even 10 minutes at a time to reap the health benefits. Essentially, in this case, “exercise” is defined as a means of any kind of movement, for any amount of time.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the specific targets you should aim to achieve.
Moderation is key
The government’s new guidelines recommend adults get 2.5 hours of moderate exercise weekly. Which is EXACTLY what I’ve been saying all along!
And again, short periods of ANY activity count. So walking to your car or to get the mail, playing volleyball, and raking leaves are all roughly equivalent in terms of physical activity.
I prefer getting my heart rate up by doing useful activities around the house and working in the yard. I also enjoy spending time outside in Nature, which has added benefits for both physical and mental health. Plus, it also feels like a more productive use of my time and energy.
A few other tips to keep in mind to stay active throughout the week:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator, whenever you can (at least one flight up and two flights down).
- Park further away from your destination and walk a block or two.
- Sit less during the day. Aim to get up and walk around for a minute or two each half hour.
Consider investing in a standing desk.
Guidelines for healthier future generations
And if you have young children or grandchildren, the government’s new guidelines also include several recommendations beginning at age three. (The previous guidelines began at age six.)
Specifically, they recommend that preschoolers ages three to five should engage in periods of active play throughout the day, totaling about three hours. (Of course, many children at this age are in perpetual motion and need to be encouraged to stop moving once in a while. Just make sure to avoid giving them ADHD drugs!)
For older children ages six to 17, they recommend getting one hour total of vigorous activity throughout the day. Again, small bursts of activity count toward their total. So, a physical education class at school should do the trick, along with other light activity (walking to and from the bus, biking, running, playing sports, and climbing on playground equipment).
Of course, I recommend children play outside and get a little dirty as much as possible, as it offers the added bonus of supporting their developing immune system. Studies show it may even help protect them from leukemia and asthma.
It’s a great time of year to begin a sensible, new exercise routine. Just skip the pricey indoor gym membership. Instead, walk to the nearest gym, turn around, and walk back home. Which is healthier not only for your wallet, but for your body as well.
“The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” JAMA. 2018;320(19):2020-2028 ority46 \lsdlo