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Columns

Waubonsee Voices: No miracle pill replaces benefits of exercise

Emily Heller
Emily Heller

Popular culture bombards us with messages regarding the benefits of regular exercise. It is widely known that physical activity helps to facilitate weight loss, improves sleep and reduces the risk of some diseases including: cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Yet, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, only 20% of adults meet both cardio and strength training guidelines, which include cardiovascular activity three to five days a week and strength training two to three times a week, totaling 150 minutes weekly.

In 2007, the ACSM and the American Medical Association launched a co-initiative, Exercise Is Medicine. Through this initiative, physical activity is to be included in medical treatment and patient care for all individuals.

If there was a pill that conferred all of the benefits of regular exercise, physicians and insurance companies would figure out a way to make sure every individual had access to this “miracle drug.”

Since there is not, initiatives such as EIM further reiterate the importance of incorporating physical activity in one’s life.

Here are a few guidelines that can help in thinking about an exercise program:

Cardiovascular exercise: The current ACSM exercise guidelines recommend 20 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise performed at least three days a week. This can be accumulated in one continuous exercise session or in bouts of 10 minutes throughout the day.

Cardiovascular exercise can be achieved through any activity that increases one’s breathing and heart rate. Some examples are walking, cycling, swimming and yard work.

Strength training: Guidelines include lifting weights two to three days a week, two to four sets, eight to 12 repetitions.

Deconditioned individuals should begin with one set of 10 to 14 repetitions. Dumbbells, machines or body-weight exercises (i.e. planks, pushups, or wall sits) are all effective to increase overall muscle mass.

Balance: Balance training should be performed two to three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes for older adults to maintain physical function and reduce the risk of falls. Examples include activities such as yoga and tai chi.

Flexibility: Guidelines include holding each stretch 10 to 30 seconds and repeating 2 to 4 times, with the goal of 60 seconds total for each joint. Flexibility exercises are most effective when muscles are warm. Since static movement can acutely decrease power and strength, it is ideal to engage in static stretching after working out.

Flexibility training helps to decrease risk of falls and back pain, improves balance and can prevent injuries.

Making time for exercise: In January 2019, National Public Radio published an article touting how obtaining ACSM guidelines can be achieved in only 22 minutes a day.

The article, “Get Fit – Faster: This 22-Minute Workout Has You Covered,” explains how a total body workout can be achieved with 10 minutes of cardio, eight minutes of weight training and four minutes of stretching. With a limited amount of time for cardio, incorporating high-intensity intervals are an excellent way to increase one’s heart rate and get a great workout in (e.g., 1 minute high intensity 30 seconds recovery for 10 minutes). Collectively, working out for 22 minutes seven days a week allows the ACSM guidelines for physical activity to be met.

So, what is keeping you from exercising only 22 minutes every day? Especially considering this “something” has the potential of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, mortality, type 2 diabetes and some cancers and is known to improve mental health.

Until a miracle breakthrough drug is available to provide all of the associated benefits that exercise offers, can you allocate 22 minutes today to working out?

• Dr. Emily Heller is instructor of kinesiology and health education at Waubonsee Community College.

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