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How Long to Exercise?

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There is no question that a sedentary lifestyle has dire health consequences. Sitting for long periods of time watching TV is a health risk that increases the chance of developing diseases such as cancer. In fact, one study found that such practice leads to an over 50% increased risk of colon cancer, and a 66% increased risk of uterine cancer. The antidote of course is to get up and move around more. What is the optimal amount of exercise you should get? In this post we’ll look at some recent research studies to see what they say about how much to exercise.

Of course, the problem with sitting around watching television is not just the sitting by itself, but the eating habits that often accompany such sitting. The top photo above is a good graphic–junk food, including pop and potato chips (hmmm, is there a connection between potato chips and couch potato?), is often a staple of such “inactivity.” The combination of sitting plus junk food is particularly bad.

(Incidentally, one scary finding is that even if people exercise on a regular basis, sitting around is still bad for the health–thus, one should always break up sitting sessions by getting up and moving around. There are simple ways to make habits of doing this. For example, after driving to your destination such as a shopping mall, park farther away so that you get more benefit from walking. If you’re watching TV, get up and move around during commercials, etc.)

Here are some sample results from recent studies regarding amounts of exercise:

  • 45 minutes of moderate exercise: 13% less likely to die over the next 6 years. Exercise must be of the “sweating” type.
  • 75 minutes of vigorous exercise: 31% less likely to die over the next 14 years
  • 5 times the recommended amount of exercise (5 x 75 minutes per week): 39% less likely to die over this period, and above that amount, no additional benefit found.

In a study entitled “Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk,” researchers at Iowa State University found that running for just 10 minutes per day produced as many positive health effects as longer sessions. Compared to non-runners, these subjects enjoyed 30% fewer deaths by all causes, and 45% fewer deaths by cardiovascular causes. Runners enjoyed up to 3 years longer lifespan on average than the non-runners. The lead researcher discusses these findings here:

On the flip side, too much exercise can also be detrimental to your health. We’re not talking about engaging inĀ marathon running, which has its own risks. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the key to following this efficiency model, for over a relatively brief span of time, the body is challenged to grow in strength and endurance. We will write more about HIIT in an upcoming article. (Click here to see the article.)

So what’s the bottom line? Here are the key points to take away:

  • It pays to be efficient with exercise. Even 10 minutes a day produces significant health benefits.
  • The maximum health benefit peaks at about 5 vigorous sessions of 75 minutes per week. At a certain point–such as running marathons–exercise actually starts to have a negative impact on health.
  • No matter how much you exercise, be sure to break up sitting sessions by getting up and moving around.

Being smart about exercise will save you time, and it may even save your life.

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