Physical Activity and Exercise Guidelines

Exercise Guidelines
The 3 Week Diet
The 3 Week Diet

Physical Activity and Exercise Guidelines

Physical Activity and Exercise Guidelines
By Fergus O Connor

We all know we should try to exercise and keep active to assist us in staying healthy as we age. Physical activity has been proven to provide a HUGE variety of benefits including:

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic syndrome
  • Improved mental health and mood
  • Reduced risk of falls, and improved functioning with daily activities

Of course this is just the start, there are many other benefits to regular physical activity. It’s very valuable to add some exercise into your daily routine and the long-term benefits of regular structured workouts make it essential that you take advantage of exercise as a preventative tool for your health.

It can be overwhelming though for someone new to exercise or even someone who hasn’t worked out for a while. Where do you begin? What type of exercise should you be performing? How often do you need to workout to see results? We will cover some of the common questions beginners have in this post. By the end you will know the recommended amount and types of exercise you should be performing for maximum benefit to your health.

Are physical activity and exercise the same thing?

We should first define the distinction between physical activity and exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines physical activity as: “Any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure above resting levels”. You can think of physical activity as the activities you do that get you moving: walking the dog, gardening, etc. Exercise however, is usually planned, structured and repetitive, and carried out for the purpose of improving or maintaining physical fitness or health. While many adults engage in regular forms and amounts of physical activity, (47%), the statistics are more sobering when it comes to the percentage of adults (18.8%) who meet the recommended guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise.

While many of us are physically active, clearly not enough of us make enough time for exercise. Increasing everyday physical activities has some increased benefits for our health. But to really to improve our condition and overall wellness, there is no prescription like regular planned exercise. Exercise is for the most part free, it doesn’t require a lot resources or expenses and it has been shown to be as effective as medication in prevention of conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

The only questions we should be asking are how much do we need to exercise to achieve these benefits and what types of exercises are most effective. It’s a no brainer whether its worth adding regular exercise into your life. But if you still need convincing here is more evidence provided by the National Health Service in the UK:

It’s medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

Recommendations: How much, how often..

When it comes to defining how much and how often the population should exercise to gain benefits the American College Of Sports Medicine is the lead authority in setting standards. Beginning in 1995, along with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they began producing guidelines on the amount and type of activity adults should be engaging in: Physical Activity and the Public Health: Updated Recommendations for Adults.

Here is a summary of what the ACSM currently recommends for physical activity:

Aerobic Activity

Aerobic activity literally means “with oxygen”. Common forms of aerobic activity, also commonly known as cardio include: walking, jogging, swimming, cycling. It’s interesting to not the guidelines state that the total can be made up of shorter brief sessions accumulated together. This can be a good strategy for a beginner who may feel overwhelmed by long aerobic sessions.

  • Minimum 150 minutes moderate intensity per week
  • Can be met by 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).
  • One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.

Resistance Training

Most people consider resistance training to mean “lifting weights” in a gym setting. But resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscle to contract against resistance. This can mean body weight exercises, resistance bands, kettlebells etc. The important concept is that you are working a variety of muscle groups and challenging the muscle. This also doesn’t always mean you need to go to muscle failure which is another common assumption beginners have.

  • Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment.
  • Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power
  • For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance

Flexibility Training

Flexibility training is often overlooked or completely ignored when starting out a training program. Flexibility training is much more than doing a few stretches after warm up. It can be very beneficial to increasing range of motion of a joint and ultimately helping decrease the risk of injury. There are many variations of flexibility training and you should consider exploring different options to keep things fresh.

  • Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion
  • Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.
  • Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective.

Just begin…

It can be overwhelming if your just starting out to look at these recommendations and figure out how you plan to achieve each one weekly. There are further guidelines on balance training which we haven’t included. But just beginning to add some extra minutes of planned exercise to your weekly schedule will help you start to see results and start to feel better. Over time you can build up additional minutes and variations of exercise to ensure you are attaining the guidelines. Slow steady progression in the beginning is much better than going too hard and trying to implement all these areas a once which can easily lead to injury in the untrained individual. An experienced personal trainer can help design a program which encompasses all the recommendations in a structured and attainable program. If you do decide to hire a trainer make sure they are adequately qualified by a top certification body such as the ACSM. This should help make sure they are aware of the minimum recommendations and are designing an efficient program to help you reach your goals.

Disclaimer: Any exercise program has its own risks and you should proceed with caution, especially using good judgment for unfamiliar activities. Refer to Osteofitrehabs Terms and Conditions for the full disclaimer.

Fergus is a Licensed Manual Osteopath and American College of Sports Medicine certified trainer. He works with a wide variety of clients including athletes, medical exercise clients and chronic pain patients. He is the owner of Osteofitrehab, offering Manual Osteopathic treatments and personal training in the west end of Toronto. For further information or to check out more interesting blog posts follow us on Facebook or check us out online at

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The 3 Week Diet


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