Chatting with some coworkers recently, we all agreed on the obvious. We all know we're "supposed" to exercise. But we had a lot of questions. Why exercise? We know it has a ton of benefits. How much and what kind of exercise did we need to get those? We asked Lisa Farr, MEd, manager of the Exercise Physiology Core Lab at UVA Health these questions and more.
How Much Should You Exercise For Overall Health?
Exercise can be hard to fit in. We wanted to know: how many times should you workout a week? For how long? And how hard?
Farr started with a caveat. The answer could vary based on our individual health factors. But for a general answer, she pointed us to guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine and the CDC.
- 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week
- Strength training that works all major muscle groups 2 times a week
They provide additional guidelines for people who have cancer, have high blood pressure, or are pregnant.
What's Moderate or Intense?
The ACSM and CDC give us a few ways to tell moderate and vigorous exercise apart:
- Talk test: At moderate intensity, you can hold a conversation. At vigorous, you can get out a few words.
- Heart rate: An easy way to find your max heart rate is subtract your age from 220. With moderate activity, your heart rate is 65-75% of your max. Multiply your max by 0.65 and 0.75 to find this range. Vigorous activity is at 76-96% of your max. For example, if you're 40, your max rate is 180 beats per minute. Moderate activity takes your heart rate to 117-135 bpm and vigorous takes it to 137-172 bpm.
- Perceived effort: Think of a scale of 1-10, where 1 is very easy, 5 is hard, and 10 is your max effort. Moderate activity is 3-4 on the scale and vigorous is 5-7.
What's Strength Training?
This can mean body weight exercises, free weights, TRX, dumbbells, kettle bells, or machines, Farr explains.
How Often Should You Exercise?
Every day, Farr advises. Why? So it becomes automatic, "like brushing your teeth or wearing your seatbelt."
Sidelined by Injury?
UVA Health physical medicine & rehabilitation experts can help find the root cause and get you back to your workout.
"You don’t want to have to negotiate with yourself each day about whether you are going to exercise," she warns. "That takes mental energy and willpower and gives people a chance to 'decide wrong.'"
Plus, the "mental and energy benefits of moving every day are huge," she explains.
What Kind of Exercise Should You Do?
The simple answer: the kind you like. You're more likely to do it if you don't dread it.
One caveat from Farr: "Anything new can be awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to give something some time before you decide it’s not for you."
And mix it up. "Do different types of exercises, and vary intensity," Farr says. "Not every exercise bout should be vigorous/hard."