Vigorous, Light or Moderate?
How hard are you working out?
One of the problems writing about exercise is how people interpret the words. For example, if I say you should do 30 minutes of "vigorous" exercise a day, how exactly would you define "vigorous?" Would you judge it by your heart rate, the length of time you exercised or by how fast you were moving?
I asked eight clients to define it for me and got eight different answers.
The reason I wanted to know what people thought is because of a simple directive. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that every American get at least 1 hour and 15 minutes of "vigorous aerobic exercise per week" and "strength training exercises at least twice a week."
I quickly realized, how can they expect people to exercise vigorously if most Americans aren't even sure what vigorous means? So I'm going to share with you a simple way to tell.
Three things that happen when you're exercising vigorously.
- First, you can only speak in short phrases.
- Second, you're sweating.
- Finally, you're breathing at least twice as fast as normal.
It's easy, doesn't require any special equipment and is highly personal based on your individual fitness level.
"Light" and "moderate" levels of exercise are simple to identify as well.
If you're exercising at a light pace, you'll be able to talk easily without interruption. A walk with your dog or gardening are examples of light exercise.
Moderate exercise will start to make you feel a little out of breath. You may also experience a slight perspiration. Walking uphill or carrying groceries in are both examples of moderate exercise.
Now that you know what vigorous means, the next step is to get your workouts into that range. If you're dealing with health issues, excess weight or just haven't pushed your body in a while; you can get there gradually doing something called intervals. That's where you alternate between high and low exercise intensities. As you get more fit, keep pushing yourself longer in the high-intensity range until you can sustain "vigorous" for at least 25 minutes in a stretch.
When you're doing cardio workouts, you should also keep your exercises continuous in nature. Don't constantly start and stop or you're defeating the purpose.
Here's why I'm suddenly so keen on everyone making sure they're working out at the right intensity levels. I was shocked when I read a study that came out of the University of Exeter and Brunel University in England. In 2007 they found that 56% of men and 71% of women believe that MODERATE activity is more beneficial than vigorous exercise. The majority of people surveyed thought taking a stroll through the park was better than a "vigorous" 25-minute run or bike ride.
They're tragically mistaken. Don't misunderstand me. Walking definitely offers some health benefits, but only "vigorous aerobic exercise" has been shown to definitively reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve body composition, glycemic control, blood lipid profiles and lower resting heart rates. There's even early research showing vigorous exercise can reduce the risk of prostate and colorectal cancers.
A few common-sense rules should apply. If you're just starting a fitness program, you're going to have to build up to a vigorous workout. Couch potatoes may need two to three months of moderate exercise before they're capable of anything more strenuous. Also, men over the age of 44 and women over the age of 54 should automatically visit their doctor for a checkup and release to make sure there are no underlying health issues that may be a problem.
Challenge yourself to do more. If you always walk, break into a jog. If you always jog, try running. Don't do that same tired routine you learned years ago; it's time to exercise and get some results. You're only going to grow if you start pushing past old limits. Now that you know what you should be doing, are you ready to do it?
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beginning any diet or exercise program.