We all know that exercise is important, so get your heart pumping in the spirit of American Heart Month this February. Exercise lends many benefits to the body. Exercise can boost our mood, relieve anxiety, help prevent diabetes, help prevent falls and fractures, lower blood pressure, and boost HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Furthermore, studies have shown that people who get regular exercise sleep better and report improved energy levels, memory retention, and focus.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly. A good rule of thumb is the talk test — you should be able to carry a conversation, but not sing a song, if you’re exercising at moderate intensity. With vigorous intensity exercise, you shouldn’t be able to get out more than a few words without becoming breathless. Aim for at least three days of aerobic exercise and two days of strength training (anaerobic) per week. Aerobic exercises could include walking, running, swimming, tennis, cycling, dancing, or exercise classes such as Zumba, while examples of strength training could include lifting weights or yoga.
Health experts now strongly discourage prolonged sitting as this can lead to a myriad of health problems, and many even liken the risk of sitting to smoking. The latest guidelines from the American Diabetes Association recommend getting up and moving every 30 minutes. Every little bit counts! With that, here are a few simple ways to add more physical activity into your day:
• Walk or pace when talking on the phone.
• If you are in a sedentary job: set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to get up and move more frequently. Take a “brain break” and make a lap around the office or stretch.
• Park in the furthest corner of the parking lot.
• Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
• If the cold weather is deterring you, bundle up with extra layers or walk the stairs in a mall.
• Go for a walk on your lunch break rather than eat out.
• Have a family fun day of “active play” which could include hiking, riding bikes, playing a game of catch, window shopping or taking a walk in the park.
• Make exercise a habit, just like eating or sleeping. Chosen activity should fit into your personal lifestyle.
The key to getting started with any exercise routine is to start small and gradually build up. Finding something that you enjoy is critical to having a sustainable exercise program. If you have not exercised in a long time or have medical conditions that may impair your ability to exercise, consult a physician first.
Natalie Colla, RDN, LD, is a graduate of the University of Idaho Dietetics Program, registered dietitian, and diabetes educator with Kootenai Clinic Diabetes & Endocrinology.