How much exercise should we be doing in order to stay healthy, lose weight or get fit? What intensities should we be exercising at to achieve all of these goals? If you read one article it is likely to give you a completely different viewpoint from the next. For a definitive guideline as to what you should be doing, read my ‘Guide to getting fit’.
In my experience as a personal trainer, the vast majority of clients come to me for improvements in their general health and well-being. They may not articulate it in such explicit terms but their varied goals are all aimed at a healthier and happier life. Whether this is simply being able to perform everyday activities without getting out of breath, losing weight, or being fit enough to return to playing sport, these all serve their purpose in improving both physical and mental health.
Aside from the intrinsic feelings, it is simple to see if you are doing enough. In the UK, The Chief Medical Officers publish guidance for physical activity levels for adults aged 19–64 years.
Adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more – the equivalent of 30 minutes of exercise five times per week.
Alternatively, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous activity spread across the week or a combination of moderate or vigorous activity.
Adults should undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week.
All adults should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods. The guidelines in points 1 and 2 leave you with a decision to make. Would you prefer to undertake moderate activity, vigorous training or a mix of the two? The pros and cons of each will be discussed here; however I have offered plans for both options in the programmes.
Moderate intensity activity
This refers to an intensity that causes you to work within a heart rate zone of 55-70% of maximum heart rate. This is a region which is fairly comfortable for the exerciser but does indicate a small element of exertion. This intensity may work well for someone who has been inactive for a considerable period of time and is only at the outset of undertaking physical activity. As a rule, maximum heart rate can be worked out by a very simple equation outlined below:
Maximum heart rate = 220 – your age
The interaction between the amount of exercise performed and the extent of the health benefits reaped from that programme is termed the dose-response relationship. The relationship shows that higher levels of intensity and duration of exercise are associated with improved health benefits, although this does level off, and the rationale for further increasing the workload would no longer be to improve health but instead to improve endurance performance.
With this in mind it would seem obvious that the answer is to train for longer and at greater intensity. Certainly up to a point this is true. Yet it must be acknowledged that people who are new to exercise were previously not doing it for a reason and by solely offering long or high intensity sessions, I would be ignoring the exercisers who need a structured programme the most. This is the main reason for offering the alternative training approaches within this book.
This refers to an intensity that causes you to work within 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. The alternative option for obtaining the recommended levels of physical activity is to work at this higher level of intensity. Whilst the obvious benefits to a new exerciser are the limited time that they will need to exercise, the downside is that it is more challenging and as such will feel more unpleasant.
By undertaking a training plan or hiring a Personal Trainer, you are making a positive step for your physical health, your appearance and your mood. Choose an intensity that you know will be sustainable. I’d be lying if I were to say that it would be easy, but with such a prize at the end, it will be worth it. Keep positive, keep focused and enjoy your workouts.
About the author
Darren O'Toole works for YMCAfit as an Assessor and across Central YMCA as an editor and technical contributor. He previously worked as a sport scientist and conditioning coach with Watford FC and West Ham United FC. Darren is also the owner of Dynamic Fitness Training, a Personal Trainer company in north London and has authored YMCA Guide 20 Full Body Training Programmes for Exercise Lovers. Follow Darren on Twitter: @dynamicfitPT