By Dr. Charlotte Hodges
At the beginning of every year, thousands of Americans (myself included) make a list of resolutions. Eating right and exercise are usually in the top five. However, after the glow of New Year’s has worn off, the Christmas tree is put up and the kids are back in school, we always seem to fall back into the “old routine.” While we all know the benefits of exercise, sticking with an exercise program is much trickier. It is so very easy to say, “I don’t have the time” or “I don’t have the energy.” I say this ALL THE TIME. However, in November of 2018, I thought that I had a new diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). As I researched the disease (yes, doctor’s do it too), I was surprised to see the detrimental effects this autoimmune disease had on your cardiovascular system. I knew that if I did in fact have RA, I was going to need to do everything I could to protect my heart. I knew with my schedule (and energy level), I would need to find the most efficient means to increase my activity. During this time, I attended Obesity Week sponsored by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). At the conference, there was a lot of research being performed in the areas of fitness and weight maintenance / regain. I had a wonderful opportunity to speak with a researcher and her graduate student about the benefits of exercise. I knew that whatever could work for me would certainly work for my patients! A week after I returned from the conference and saw two different rheumatologists, I found out that I did not have RA. Rather, I had parvo! Yes, it occurs in dogs and humans! While my symptoms from parvo and my fears of cardiovascular disease have subsided, I did have a huge wake-up call about my need to incorporate exercise somehow into my daily life. So, for the next few posts, I want to speak to the types of exercise that give the most bang for your caloric buck and what the research shows.
How does exercise help?
Regular exercise has been shown to have health benefits in almost every body system, from your heart and lungs to lowering stress and improving depressed mood and symptoms of anxiety. If you are trying to lose weight, you need to focus first on your diet and caloric intake (this is the easiest way to a calorie deficit). However, you will lose a greater percentage of weight and have better long term weight loss by incorporating routine exercise. But, how much exercise do you need and what do you need to do? And, do you have to have a gym membership? What if your knees hurt or you have some other health issues keeping you from exercise? Over the next couple of posts, I want to address all of these.
How much do you need?
The American Heart Association has a wonderful website. They have basically broken the time you need down into 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise (this includes walking, running, swimming, strength training). Go to https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-infographic for additional information. The Obesity Medicine Association not only reiterated the importance of at least 150 minutes to start, but for long term fitness increasing the time to 300 – 450 minutes/week is best. What they also reported is that if you break down the 150 minutes into separate sessions, as long as each session is at least 10 minutes, you can get the same benefit. For instance, you can walk briskly for 30 minutes at least 5 times a week or fifteen sessions at just 10 minutes each. You just need to keep the same intensity at each session. Now, a 10 minute session, that is totally doable!
I have found that counting steps can be incorporated into your 150 minutes of exercise. Tracking your steps is a way to ensure personal accountability. There are a plethora of fitness trackers on the market. You can get a Fitbit, pedometer, even most phones now have a built-in step tracker. Your ultimate goal is 10,000 steps a day. So, what’s more important, 30 minutes of exercise or 10,000 steps? The best is if you can incorporate both. Remember to bring your fitness tracker when you are working out (like on the treadmill, stairmaster, etc.). This will add to your daily step goal.
New Year’s Resolutions Tips
1. Make a resolution for improving your fitness in the new year. Aim for 150 minutes a week (this can include 10,000 steps a day).
2. On average, people take 3000 – 5000 steps a day. If you are just starting out, have a short term goal of adding an additional 1000 steps daily. Increase this goal every few weeks, until you are to your 10,000 step goal. If you have a bad back or knees, use a walker. My grandmother uses her shopping cart. This really helps her go further.
3. Track every step! Keep your fitness tracker on you! There are great apps, like Myfitness Pal, that can send rewards and invite friends to track with you.
4. Every step counts! To reach my goal of 10,000 steps, I take the stairs whenever I can and park further away in the parking lot.
5. On my work-out day, I don’t always get 10,000 steps. THIS IS FINE!! I’ve done my 30 minutes of activity. If it’s not a scheduled workout, then the goal is 10,000 steps. So, get to stepping!!