By now, everyone has heard that exercise can reduce the risk of chronic disease, especially heart disease. But what do the numbers tell us? How much exercise is enough? And what should you do if you don’t like to exercise? We’ll sort through the data to help you understand how to maintain your health and make every move matter.
Exercise for Heart Health: What the Studies Say
A British researcher in the 1950s observed that men working in physically active jobs were less likely to have coronary artery disease than those with sedentary jobs. The medical community was skeptical at the time, but subsequent studies showed a clear link between sedentary lifestyles and coronary artery disease.
Today the idea that exercise promotes better heart health and lowers the risk of heart disease is broadly accepted. Dozens of studies confirm these findings. Regular physical activity also has other health benefits, including:
- Reducing the risk of depression and cognitive decline
- Helping you maintain a healthy weight
- Lowering your risk of other chronic conditions, such as cancer and diabetes
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week. That’s about 30 minutes per day, five days a week. However, all health experts agree that some activity is better than none. If you can’t do 150 minutes, do as much as you can to improve your overall health.
If you struggle to find 30 minutes in a single block, try breaking it up into smaller chunks throughout the day. For example, take a 10-minute walk before work, another during your lunch break, and a third when you get home.
How to Incorporate Exercise into Your Day (Even if You Hate It)
Some people love working out and have no problem getting it done. Others would love to exercise but don’t have much spare time. Some people don’t enjoy exercise at all. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, here are some tips to help you get your workouts in:
Schedule it into your day. You schedule work time, shopping, laundry, cooking, and other things you have to get done. If you schedule exercise too, it creates the expectation that it’s just as important as eating, sleeping, grocery shopping, and taking your kids to their extracurricular activities.
Start slowly and build over time. If you’re not exercising at all now, it’s not realistic to immediately do 60 minutes, five days a week. Start with shorter sessions of 10 to 15 minutes, at least two or three days a week. Then add another day, or increase workout lengths until you get to 150 minutes.
Choose something you don’t hate. If you hate running, don’t run because you’ll be more likely to give up. Instead, find something you can tolerate (or better yet, something you enjoy). Many exercises get your heart rate up—gardening, water aerobics, biking, walking, or workouts on TV or through an app.
Get creative. Finding new ways to challenge your body prevents exercise boredom and sparks motivation. Finding a workout buddy is also a great way to be accountable for getting it done.
Give yourself a break. Sometimes you might not feel like exercising. You might be tired, cranky, or sore. It’s ok to take a break now and then from your routine if your body needs a rest day. Just make sure you get right back to it tomorrow.