Who decides how much exercise is enough?

How much is enough? Money? Sex? Friends? Don’t get too excited. We’re talking exercise.

By Kathy Hutchinson

For Reporter Newspapers

How much is enough?

Money? Sex? Friends? Don’t get too excited. We’re talking exercise.

Trying to figure out how much exercise is enough makes starting a new workout routine too complicated. Moderate or intense? Single bout or accumulated? Thirty minutes, 60 minutes, three times per week, most days per week? What is best for me?

Physical activity recommendations have changed over the years but how those recommendations actually apply is not always clear. So here’s your definitive answer to how much exercise you are supposed to have – it depends.

In the 1970s, when the fitness boom really started to hit, the recommended amount of activity was 20 minutes of intense exercise, three days per week. The idea was to improve overall fitness and body composition. Some people jumped on the bandwagon and strutted through the gym with their leg warmers and head bands, but the number of Americans actually exercising was still pretty low.

In the mid 1990s, the Surgeon General published new recommendations that stated, “Most Americans should accumulate 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week.” Clinically meaningful changes had been reported for heart disease, cancer and all-cause mortality for both men and women who exercised moderately. It’s the total amount of energy expenditure that matters, not how much in one session. Compared to the recommendations from the ‘70s, the energy expenditure is the same, just in a more attainable package – right? Not so fast. With the obesity rates having reached epidemic proportions, Americans are still not exercising.

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published its findings on the appropriate amount of activity. They stated that people need 60 minutes of moderate activity per day in addition to normal activities of daily living. Thirty minutes of accumulated exercise is enough to improve health and maintain weight, but it usually isn’t enough to lose weight.

So, who’s right? Believe it or not, they all are. How much exercise are you supposed to get? Again, it depends — on your goals.

Whether your goal is health or weight loss, starting slow is the key. Remember, walking for five minutes today is more than you did yesterday. Also, make sure you find something you enjoy. It will make sticking with your program that much easier.

For improved health, accumulating activity throughout the day (walking the dog, cleaning the house, etc.) is enough. If weight loss is your goal, the amount of activity per session needs to increase over time. Since the idea of getting your teeth pulled may seem more appealing than 60 minutes of exercise, remember that it is an eventual goal. Five minutes today becomes 10 minutes next week and that becomes 20 minutes next month. It may take you a year to get to 60 minutes of exercise and that’s OK!

Move every chance you get and give yourself credit for the baby steps you’ve taken. Just get out there!

Kathy Hutchinson, MS is an Exercise Physiologist and the Director of The Beat – the cardiac prevention and rehabilitation program at the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) on Mercer Island. The SJCC is open to everyone! Kathy can be contacted at 206-232-7115 x273 or kathyh@sjcc.org