In our culture where sedentary jobs are widespread and obesity rates are on the rise among adults and children, there are a host of reasons why aerobic activity is important for Americans. We hear it all the time in the news: adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days per week. So why do so few of us get enough?
Maybe it’s because we don’t talk enough about the upside of that exercise: strengthening the immune system, increased life expectancy, reducing risk for a host of diseases and conditions, alleviating anxiety and depression, improving self-esteem, and sleeping better at night are among the very many benefits that aerobic exercise provides.
Maybe it’s also because the current guidelines can sound, frankly, a little bit intimidating. The American Heart Association’s minimum recommendations are either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week—that’s 30 minutes five times per week or 25 minutes three times per week, respectively. (What do moderate and vigorous mean? The AHA defines moderate intensity as a level at which you can have a conversation comfortably and vigorous as the level at which it becomes difficult to talk while exercising.)
If you’re someone who doesn’t exercise regularly, those numbers definitely sound daunting, and it can be difficult to know how to begin. Rather than trying to hit these requirements right away, start small and make your goal to exercise one more day this week than last, for 30 minutes if you can. Even walking counts: a study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology earlier this year illustrates that brisk walking is as effective as running at lowering the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
And even if you’re not a gym rat, you might already be hitting the AHA’s guidelines. This helpful (and überspecific!) chart from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control defines moderate and vigorous levels of many popular activities, from traditional exercise to grocery shopping, specific kinds of housework, and childcare.
For more tips for getting moving and the reasons why it’s important to do so, check out this helpful video from Dr. Oz.