Exercise: How Much is Enough?

Are you as lazy as I am? Do the words “gym membership” fill you with terror? Are you one of the many expats who say, “well, doc, um, since I’ve been in China my exercise routine is way down”?

I can vouch that I fit that category! And of course, I have a host of terrible excuses. But I’d like to review for people just why exercise is important. One big reason is to decrease the risk of heart disease and strokes. These two diseases combined cause more deaths than any other disease — and your risk can be dramatically reduced by lifestyle choices.

Studies show that moderate exercise can decrease your risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30%. And one great finding was that brisk walking can be enough! But let’s be clear on that; a brisk walk means “out of breath, tired, and sweating”. Slowly walking the dog and chatting every ten steps after dinner, or leisurely playing 18 holes of golf, is not enough to get that heart benefit. You can find all the research studies on exercise from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines.

How many minutes is enough? The best studies show that 20-30 minutes every day is enough, or some type of out-of-breath exercise for 150 minutes a week. Or you could do 90 minutes of more vigorous exercise. Easy to remember, yes? You can find physical activity guidelines here at the U.S. CDC website.

And no, you do not need to max out your heart rate! Higher heart rates are great for weight loss, but lower heart rates help your heart. Great!

The key, of course, is finding something you love to do. Here are some ideas:

  • Dancing on the street corner every night with local Chinese (a wonderful tradition)
  • Biking to & from work or school
  • Daily Nitendo Wii Fitness exercise every morning
  • Treadmill, elliptical machine, anything for 50 minutes, three times a week at your gym

OK? I promise to exercise more if you promise as well. Your heart will thank you.


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Photography: richardsaintcyr.com

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