Health and Nutrition

“It’s very clear that a little bit of exercise makes a big difference,” says Carol Ewing Garber, author of the American College of Sports Medicine’s new guidelines on quantity and quality of exercise for adults. “The recommendation to get 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise is still one of the goals, but the message needs to be heard that doing less is also helpful.”

The guidelines and ACSM’s new book, Complete Guide to Fitness & Health, are written for everyone regardless of fitness levels: couch potatoes trying to get started, as well as adults meeting the exercise requirements but who may be unaware of the dangers of post-workout sedentary behavior. Among the highlights:

  • For the 60% of adults in the USA who are not regularly active, as little as 60 minutes of exercise a week provides some health benefits. But the science is irrefutable: Adults who get 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity lower their risk of developing certain diseases, including heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the USA.
  • For the adults who put in their 150 minutes or more but are sedentary the rest of the time, incorporating more physical activity into the rest of the day and also being mindful of the signs of heart disease are recommended.
    “It’s no longer enough to consider whether an individual gets adequate amounts of weekly exercise,” says Garber, an associate professor of movement sciences at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York. “We also need to determine how much time a person spends on sedentary pursuits, like watching television or working on a computer.”
    Sitting for long periods is harmful, Garber adds. Research shows long durations of physical inactivity during the day raise your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
    Questions to ask yourself

The American College of Sports Medicine’s new book, Complete Guide to Fitness & Health (Human Kinetics), offers these self-assessment questions to help define exercise goals for beginners as well as veterans.

  • What do I currently like about my body? What don’t I like? What would I like to change?
  • What aspect of my body or current health situation makes me unhappy but could be positively affected by a regular exercise program?
  • What do I want to change and why?
  • Am I willing to give up my current routine to make that change?
  • Do I have the motivation to make that change?

What has been my previous experience with personal health behavior change? What worked? What didn’t? How can reflecting on my previous experience help me this time?
What can be done to get people to be less sedentary? The key is finding something you like to do other than sitting or even while you’re sitting, and setting realistic goals, says Barbara Bushman, editor of ACSM’s Complete Guide to Fitness & Health.

For instance, if watching television or movies takes up your free time, then exercise while you’re doing that.
Bushman adds you can work out on an exercise ball or lift dumbbells while watching reality shows, walk around a soccer field while watching your child’s match, walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while reading on your iPad, walk and stretch while talking on the phone. All are ways you can improve your health and might even encourage you to set bigger goals.

And even if you have a jampacked day, take heart. Three 10-minute segments of moderate-intensity exercise throughout the day is acceptable.
“If we do 30 minutes in a week, that’s better than zero,” Bushman says. “I’d love it if 100% of Americans achieved 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, even better if they got 300 minutes, but not everyone is motivated. We can take steps in those directions, though.”