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A Little Exercise Goes a Long Way

To the 60 percent of adults who are not active, doing anything is better than nothing. This message, along with physical activity guidelines, was issued last week by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

The ACSM periodically issues guidelines on the quantity and quality of exercise for adults. The society last reviewed physical activity guidelines for Americans in 1998. The 2011 guidelines which appear in the July issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reflect the current scientific evidence on physical activity. Recommendations are provided for aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility.

ACSM Recommendation: Get Moving

The ACSM recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. The ACSM’s position on physical exercise is consistent with the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the government.

According to ACSM, a program of regular exercise includes cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility and neuromotor above and beyond the normal exercise from daily living. Their specific recommendations are as follows:

Cardiorespiratory Exercise

  • Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

  • Exercise recommendations can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).

  • One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.

  • Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk.

  • People unable to meet these minimums can still benefit from some activity.

Resistance Exercise

  • Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment.

  • Very light or light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults starting exercise.

  • Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power.

  • For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance.

  • Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.

Flexibility Exercise

  • Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.

  • Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.

  • Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.

  • Static, dynamic, ballistic (stretching using a bouncing motion) and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation – range of motion exercises) stretches are all effective.

  • Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching.

Neuromotor Exercise

  • Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional fitness training”) is recommended for two or three days per week.

  • Exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive exercise training and multifaceted activities (e.g., yoga) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults.

  • 20-30 minutes per day is appropriate for neuromotor exercise.

Health Benefits of Exercise

You would think more of us would exercise given that the health benefits are indisputable.

Adults who get 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity lower their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer (e.g., colon and breast cancers).

Exercise and physical activity lower blood pressure, improve lipoprotein profile (cholesterol levels), C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker), enhance insulin sensitivity and play an important role in weight management.

Prevention and improvement in mild to moderate depressive disorders and anxiety can occur with exercise. A physically active lifestyle enhances feelings of energy, well-being, quality of life and cognitive function.

In older adults, exercise also helps to preserve bone mass and reduces the risk of falls. Physical activity is also associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Get Moving

Adults who are unable or unwilling to meet the exercise targets can still benefit from engaging in amounts of exercise less than recommended. However, a greater benefit is associated with higher levels of activity. With respect to exercise, “some is good; more is better”.

“When it comes to exercise, the benefits far outweigh the risks. A program of regular exercise – beyond activities of daily living – is essential for most adults,” said Carol Ewing Garber, Ph.D., chair of the writing committee.

The Bottom Line

Like many things in life, sometimes getting started is the hardest part. If you feel this way about exercise, then download and print, Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults. This booklet provides great ideas on how to get started with an exercise program.

Aside from benefiting yourself, when you engage in regular physical exercise you set a good example for your children. Better yet, if you can join in activities together with family and friends, that will reinforce the positive behavior!

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