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Which Kind of Exercise Is Best for Me?

This is the second key question being answered in a series of posts responding to Time Magazine’s Article about questions about weight loss. You can read the first one over at “Why Exercise Doesn’t Help You Lose Weight.”

The second question that was asked of the Time article was “Which is better for my health – more frequent sessions of moderate activity or less frequent sessions of intense activity?”

Time basically said that from an obesity standpoint, it doesn’t really matter. Some exercise is better than none, so assuming that the alternative is to not exercise at all, frequent, moderate session are okay. Time states that there have been studies done that show that women who were previously sedentary saw the benefits of heart healthiness when they began walking, even if it was just 10 minutes a day.

I’m going to disagree, but only because I believe that you can push yourself to do more than maybe even you think you can do. I do not think that you should say “well, benefits are there when I walk 10 minutes a day, so I’m going to go for a 10 minute stroll.” You’re selling yourself short there, in terms of both weight loss and healthiness. There has been a huge movement in the country to do little bits of exercise here and there – take the steps, park farther away from the store, etc. While I agree these things are fine to do, they aren’t going to make mind-blowing changes to your healthiness or weight.  I have heard before that you burn about 25 calories walking up 5 flights of stairs. This would mean that you would have to walk up a significant number of stairs before you would really see any sort of true calorie burn. Again, I’m not advising that you take the elevator up to your 2nd floor office, but I’m just saying that parking farther from the store and walking up the stairs simply isn’t enough.

I am also a big proponent of high intensity interval training (HIIT), which I wrote more about in the post, High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT is great for those of us that do not want to spend hours upon hours logging away miles on the treadmill, or for those that are exceptionally busy (ie everyone). The idea is that you are pushing yourself extremely hard for interval bursts throughout your workout followed by recovery times –and by doing this you are pushing yourself to a limit that you wouldn’t normally be able to sustain. For example, I normally run about 6.7 – 7.0 miles per hour, or around an 8:30 – 9:00 mile. I can sustain this pace for 4 – 5 miles, and probably more but I get pretty bored after that amount of running. When I do HIIT, I normally run my intervals at 9.0 mph, and my recovery periods at 6.0 – 6.5. This allows me to average out at a 7.5 – 7.7 mph pace, or around a 7:45-8:00 minute mile. I can run an 8 minute mile, but I cannot sustain the pace as well as I can when I am doing HIIT.

My biggest beef with the Time answer was not that it told people to start slow and walk for 10 minutes. It is fine to start slow and all, but the article it made it sound as though walking for 10 minutes is really all you need to do, and I disagree wholeheartedly with that. The US government advises that people should aim to get around 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily. This will maximize heart benefits and provide the protection again some chronic diseases.  I’m going to throw it out there though – if you are just starting out on an exercise program, you may not be able to do 30 minutes of exercise, and HIIT may not be for you. The key is to start out slow, which the Time article covered. You don’t want to dive right in and then end up hurt. If what you are able to do right now is walk for 10 minutes, then do it, and maybe tomorrow try to walk for 11 minutes. Gradually build up in your amount of time, and then you can work on walking faster or incorporating intervals once you have a base of fitness. Just don’t sell yourself short. You can walk for more than 10 minutes eventually, and you should set your goals on being able to accomplish more and more. As one doctor put it, “some is better than none. More is better than some. Too much is difficult to get.” I will say that you can definitely over train and get too much of one type of exercise, but overall our bodies were made to be moved around and worked. It is only within the last 100 years that we have become a more sedentary population, so your body will definitely thank you if you give it the exercise that it wants, and push it to new limits.

And I don’t think that anyone’s ultimate and final limit is 10 minutes a day. 

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