80% of Americans Don't Get Enough Exercise. Do you?

By Regan Wilson

It’s January and everybody is going to the gym. I applaud and encourage everyone who is making a commitment to be more active as their New Year’s resolution, but before you take on a P90X or Insanity workout, let’s talk a little about what you need to know so you can be healthy and successful.​​​

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​So many people are sedentary; in fact fewer than 20% of Americans get the recommended amount of exercise. Perhaps if you’re reading this column you’re among that 20%, but if you’re not, let’s talk a bit before you switch gears to workout mode.

We know that “chronic moderate exercise” (exercising pretty much every day for at least 30 minutes at moderate intensity), helps boost our immune systems. This is definitely something to keep in mind as the cold and flu season sets in and is a good motivator to keep up your exercise routine. On the other hand, too much intense exercise may decrease our immune systems. When we’re talking about moderate or vigorous exercise, we’re talking about how your body responds. Yes, there general guidelines, but if you’re among that 80% of Americans who don’t get enough exercise, what is labeled “moderate” may really knock you on your keister and if you try to take on something like a “push you to your limits” boot camp class, you could end up in a world of pain. (Low intensity: you can gab on your cell phone and sing. Moderate intensity: you can talk, but with effort and you’re starting to sweat. Vigorous intensity: you can get out a couple of words between breaths, but your breathing is still regular. High intensity:  maximum effort, almost gasping for breath.)

Here’s my advice for staying safe, healthy and being successful: 
 
  • Start out slow and set realistic goals. Running 5 miles per day may be starting out slow and being realistic if you’ve already been running 4 miles per day, but not if you’ve been sedentary since the Clinton administration. Too much too fast may lead to illness and injury that can derail your efforts. Three days spent walking 30-45 minutes is slow and realistic if you’re just standing up from that recliner.
  • Start out slow and set realistic goals. (Am I repeating myself?) If you’re in pretty good shape and are looking for a way to mix up your exercise routine, something like CrossFit may be a way to add intense exercise to your routine a couple of days a week. Muscle building requires small tears in the muscle so some soreness is expected. If you’re sore to the touch, you’ve done too much. Two days of moderate, full body weight training is slow and realistic if you’re adding resistance training to your routine.
  • Start out slow and set realistic goals. High intensity exercise (pushing to the max) should be limited to about two times per week and most of your time spent exercising should be moderate to vigorous intensity.  Moderate exercise is sustainable, safe and helps us maintain the progress we’ve made. Ideally, intense exercise is a way for us to push to get stronger, faster and improve cardiovascular endurance; our bodies won’t do those things as effectively if they’re never given the chance to recover and rebuild. Adding some vigorous workouts after 3-4 weeks of consistent moderate exercise is probably slow and realistic (ask your physician if it’s safe for you to start that type of exercise). If your doctor approves, you could also add high intensity interval training to your workout.
  • Finally, wash your hands often, get a flu shot, pay attention to your body and rest if you’re sore to the touch. Don’t exercise if you have a fever or your symptoms are below your neck. If you’re working with a personal trainer or taking a group class, be honest with the trainer/instructor about your fitness level. Remember, “Progress, not perfection.”
Posted by Regan Wilson