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December 12, 2018

Finally, Exercise Guidelines for the Gym-Averse  

Four Reasons New Recommendations Will Get You Moving

Joyce Knestrick, PhD, CRNP, FAANP

New exercise guidelines are chipping away at the animosity most Americans feel towards exercise. For decades, experts have argued that 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise — broken into sweat-inducing stretches that keep your heart rate up for at least 10 minutes (and ideally more) — is the key to good health. Rather than motivating people to get moving, only 20 percent actually meet these basic recommendations, leaving the rest to throw in their gym towel in frustration and sideline exercise all together.

Most adults cite lack of time as the main reason they don’t exercise more. In an age when we’re working longer and harder than ever before, hope of fitting in a solid 30 minutes on the treadmill five days a week simply isn’t realistic, and an all-or-nothing mentality leaves many erring on the side of doing nothing. Americans today burn 140 fewer calories a day than in 1960, and long hours behind a desk or device are largely to blame.

The first new guidelines in over a decade are providing even the most reluctant exercisers with real incentive to get moving. Finally, scientists are proving what some have been hoping for all along — the stolen minutes of movement every day really do add up. While the net goal hasn’t changed — 150 minutes of activity a week is still the magical number — how we get there is up to our own creative devices. What this really means is we can all be beacons of good health, even if we’re not gym rats.

If you’ve been at odds with exercise, now is the time to cook up your own routine to reap the benefits of movement. Here are four things that even the most exercise-averse people will appreciate about the new federal guidelines.

  1. Everything counts. You don’t need the proper shoes, headphones, weights or fancy equipment to be active. Walking your kids to the bus stop, taking the stairs, lunchtime crunches, using the far-away printer and grocery shopping all count towards your exercise total. If you’re active for 22 minutes every day, you can reach your 150 minutes of physical activity for the week, maybe even without ever really breaking a sweat.
  2. Something is always better than nothing. Only have time for a few one-minute spurts? Some activity is better than none, so do what you can, when you can. Finding ways to move more (and sit less) every chance you get is good for your health, even if you don’t satisfy the guidelines each week.
  3. You’ll feel better immediately. Regular activity helps you sleep better, focus, reduce anxiety and improve your mental health. A quick walk around the block will get your heart rate up, and it may also help you navigate a particularly stressful day.
  4. You’ll still live longer and healthier. Being active over time lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Even if you’re not an exercise buff, being active can save your life, and the same old benefits still apply under the new guidelines.

The new recommendations make it harder than ever to find excuses to be sedentary. If you’ve been time-pressed, gym-shy and overwhelmed by the physical demands of more rigorous exercise, this is the news you’ve been waiting for. Scrap your exercise guilt and find ways to be active every chance you get. You may be surprised by the minutes you can rack up simply by living your chaotic life, and the simple health benefits that come when you add some vigor to your routine. If you’re not sure what exercises are best for you, talk to your NP. Under the new guidelines, everyone can exercise if you’re creative enough.