Minimums, Recommendations, and Requirements

You’re supposed to regularly engage in physical activity right?  Everyone knows this, even if we don’t exactly do it.  I think one of the major problems is that people interpret the activity minimums as activity recommendations, and because of this few people are ‘in shape’.    What are the minimums?  Well they vary depending on organizations, but the general consensus is:

The American College of Sports Medicine, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and American Medical Association call for a minimum for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity daily physical activity a week, or 30 minutes a day for 5 days.

Does anyone else think that’s setting the bar pretty low?  I mean, moderate physical activity is brisk-walking.  Numerous scientific studies have shown that there are tremendous health benefits from walking 30 minutes a day, and I’m not at all disputing this.  Do we really live in a society where walking is justified as exercise, and that 1.5% of our week is dedicated to moving?  That’s abysmal.  At least the Center for Disease Control goes on to include “muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups”  An improvement, yes, but it’s still a minimum requirement that I’ll venture to say most of the population doesn’t meet.  If you’re reading my blog, then I’m hopeful that you’re living an active lifestyle, and you agree that these minimums are certainly low, and as recommendations they’re just lame.  Let me continue a little further down this path.  These are the definitions and examples off of the CDC Website:

How do you know if you’re doing light, moderate, or vigorous intensity aerobic activities?
For most people, light daily activities such as shopping, cooking, or doing the laundry doesn’t count toward the guidelines. Why? Your body isn’t working hard enough to get your heart rate up.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell is that you’ll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song. Here are some examples of activities that require moderate effort:

  • Walking fast
  • Doing water aerobics
  • Riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Pushing a lawn mower

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you’re breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Here are some examples of activities that require vigorous effort:

  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Riding a bike fast or on hills
  • Playing singles tennis
  • Playing basketball

You can do moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a mix of the two each week. A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

Is anyone else that these activities are mislabeled?  To me, walking fast or playing doubles tennis is light aerobic activity, and you should still be able to have a conversation.  Going for a jog, swimming laps, or playing basketball is moderate intensity aerobic activity, and you’ll be smiling and having a jolly old time.  Sure, ’30 minutes of brisk walking benefits health’, but it’s barely going to make a difference when it comes to moving better, feeling better, and looking better naked.

By now, you might be thinking, “Sheesh! Why is Harold hating on these activity guidelines?  Why doesn’t he think that they count?”  Sure, I don’t like them, and I do think that they count…I just don’t think that you should count them.  It’s pretty simple, actually.

Every step you take is going to contribute to your health and wellness, and increase your physical fitness.  These guidelines for aerobic activity should be requirements for everyone, and not considered exercise.  Instead of thinking of it as improving the body, think of it as stopping the body from getting worse.  You’re just maintaining homeostasis, and moving around is part of that.  Just being active is simple; take the stairs, walk to the store/school/work, park at the back of the parking lot, take a few extra steps when you can.  It’s good for you sure, but it’s not going to do very much to contribute to performance or aesthetics.  Aerobic activity should be the baseline, not the workout.

When you are working out, you should be focusing on moving heavy objects, or moving fast.  It’s relatively simple, and it’s applicable to all performance and aesthetic goals.  I gave a few examples of how to break up workouts in a recent post, so I’d suggest checking it out.

If you’ve spent a while being sedentary, and you’re looking to engage in a fitness program, where do you start?  Not with aerobic work.  Start by addressing the movement deficiencies you’ve accumulated, fix them, and focus on getting stronger.  Developing strength and anaerobic conditioning should be your priority inside the gym, and when you’re outside, just think about living a moving around and living a healthy lifestyle.  You’ll feel better, you’ll look better, and you’ll make a difference in your physical and mental health.

Your aerobic work should come from being active, not from thinking about exercise.  Is walking on the treadmill or bouncing around on the elliptical your idea of a good time?  Definitely not.  Do you think it’s a requirement for staying fit?  Hopefully not.  Instead of being a slave to the LCD display, get outside.  Go kayaking,  take a bike ride, or on a hike.  Walk your dog, play Frisbee with the guys, go dancing with your girlfriend.  Don’t consider it exercise.  Consider it living.  It feels good to be alive, doesn’t it?  Take advantage of it, make it better, and have as much fun as you can.

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