The Benefits of Exercise
‘Tis the season for setting intentions. Specifically, wellness-related intentions. With 2019 just starting, there’s no better time to reevaluate your health. This year, maybe you plan to incorporate more fiber into your diet, cook more plant-based meals and support your local farmers. Maybe drinking a daily green smoothie is a priority. And while consuming nourishing, seasonal foods is part of the equation, movement is equally important.
Exercise is the gateway to building lean muscle mass, naturally detoxing the body, supporting a healthy cardiovascular system and more. Plenty of research validates the importance of exercise. But along with the physical health benefits, movement also provides an endorphin release, which can generate mental clarity, a significant mood boost, and a helpful energy surge. Unfortunately, however, exercise is hardly a priority for a significant percentage of Americans. But contrary to popular belief, exercise doesn’t have to be long, grueling and unenjoyable to be effective. In fact, at-home yoga, biking to and from work and taking your dog for a walk are all beneficial. Finding fun, effective ways to move your body is the most important thing. After all, exercise should be more of a privilege than a chore.
How Frequently Should I Exercise?
As you can imagine, there's no universal answer — many factors can contribute to finding the frequency that’s right for you. First, the amount and intensity will vary depending on your goals. If you are an advanced runner training for a marathon, experts generally advise just one rest day per week. For someone simply trying to stay in shape, exercising three to four times per week is usually sufficient. Otherwise, if you’re a gym-going newbie, take it slow — start with two workout days per week and build from there. On your rest days, remember that light stretching and walking are still recommended; not only do they keep soreness at bay and help circulate the blood, but these low-intensity activities also provide a reprieve from work-related stress. Ultimately, as your fitness level improves, you’ll likely need fewer rest days for recovery. And while some fitness junkies enjoy working out every day, foregoing rest days can lead to injuries and burn-out.
Secondly, DNA and genetics play a role. When it comes to athletic and physical performance, genetics may account for 50 to 60 percent of the difference between your skills and someone else’s. In other words, you may need to work twice as hard (or twice as often) to achieve the same results as your colleague. Through trial and error, you’ll find your fitness sweet spot — the number of exercise days per week to meet your goals. All of that said, keep in mind that good nutrition significantly contributes to achieving fitness goals as well.
Much like exercise frequency, the amount of recommended cardio can vary. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re a cyclist and building endurance is important, you’re likely to be on your bike for hours at a time. Building stamina requires consistency and perseverance. On the other hand, if weight loss is your goal, the National Institutes of Health recommends at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three to five days per week.
You can maximize your sweat sessions for efficiency, however, by alternating between high- and low-intensity workouts each day. In essence, while moderate-intensity exercise can be solely cardio (jogging, swimming, cycling, etc.), you can also incorporate weights, kickboxing and other forms of strength-based movement. Challenging your body to remain in peak form (or make progress) requires a combination of both cardio and strength training.