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How much exercise should I be doing?

Written by Sarah on

Most of us feel like we need to be doing more exercise but how much should we be aiming for, how often and what actually counts as exercise? In this blog I take a look at the NHS exercise recommendations and explain how they can translate to your life.

Unless you’re going to be starring in the next James Bond or Marvel superhero film or competing in the Paris Olympics you don’t need to be working out for hours every day. Exercise needs to be able to fit into your existing lift commitments in a sustainable way but that can take some planning and scheduling.

The NHS guidelines recommend that people aged 19-64 should do strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups on at least 2 days a week and at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week (or a combination of both).

What does all this actually mean though?

Let’s start with the 2 days of strengthening activities.

They don’t specify an amount of time that we should be doing this for but they do say that this can involve yoga, tai chi, pilates and resistance band work as well as more traditional weight lifting and body weight exercises. It can also involve gardening and carrying children (which I’d imagine most parents are doing on more than 2 days a week!)

It's good that the NHS has a wide definition of strengthening activities as it’s true that all of the things listed above can help you to build strength and increase muscle mass. Being active and challenging your strength in everyday activities is fantastic, but you need to be able to build the strength in the first place. If your main strengthening exercise is carrying your child, although it’s brilliant for progressive overload (as they become gradually heavier!) it’s likely you are going to be favouring carrying them on one side leading to muscular imbalances.

Gardening is fantastic for cardio, strength and mental health benefits but are you going to be doing this consistently all year round or are you going to not do anything in the winter months and then hammer it when spring comes around? The first spring spell of good weather is a super busy time for osteopaths and physios as gardeners who have been fairly sedentary over winter get back to vigorous digging and inevitably end up with back issues!

I’m a huge advocate of yoga but there are many different types to choose from, with some offering far more strength benefits than others. And you need to be practicing a lot of yoga and a variety of different poses to be able to work all of your major muscles effectively every week.

So how can you get the best bang for your buck and ensure that you work all of the major muscle groups to allow you to do your gardening and child carrying pain free?

Resistance training. If you can fit in 2 x 1 hour strength sessions a week, working through the key movement patterns – hinge, squat, push, pull and lunge you will be hitting all of your muscles. You can also measure progress much more easily by training this way. You can start using bodyweight and resistance band exercises and build from there. For more detail on resistance training check out my blog.

Let’s look at the moderate or vigorous activities now. What they mean by this is cardio.

Moderate activities could be brisk walking, a leisurely bike ride somewhere pretty flat (in the High Peak most bike riding counts as vigorous!), dancing or water aerobics.

These are activities where your heart rate is raised and breathing is heavier but you can still hold a conversation, but you can’t sing (so can dancing really count as I don’t think I can dance without also singing along?)

You could break this down anyway you like but ideally you want to try and spread your activity out over the course of a week and not do 150 minutes on a Saturday and be completely sedentary for the other 6 days! For instance you could go on 30 minute walks on 5 days or do a 1 hour aqua aerobics class, 30 minute bike ride and 15 minutes of kitchen disco dancing on 4 days.

You’ll know if you are doing vigorous activity if you can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath. Obviously, this is all relative to you as an individual and for some people a brisk walk will fall into this category. So work at an activity level which is right for where your body is now. The NHS give running, climbing up stairs and aerobics as examples of vigorous activities. An example of how this could break down would be doing a 30 minute aerobics class, 15 minute swim and 2 x 15 minute runs across the week.

Combined training can work well too

If you are short on time to exercise you could combine strength and cardio by doing some high intensity interval circuit style training which will count as vigorous activity and 1 of your 2 strength sessions.

I find that a mix of activities works really well for my body and mind. On an average week I try and get along to a yoga class, do a couple of strength training sessions, a circuit training session or run and a couple of walks. This can change depending on what my current goals are and the time of year (I'm a fair weather runner!) Some weeks it's just not possible to fit everything in and on those weeks I prioritise my strength training and yoga.

Everyone is individual though and you need to create a plan that suits your lifestyle, goals and preferences. Find activities that you enjoy and then you are more likely to keep doing them. Whether it's attending classes at your local leisure centre, following workout videos on youtube or an app, exploring your local area through walking or working with a PT, there are lots of ways to increase your activity levels to meet (and surpass) the NHS guidelines.

If you'd like support in getting more exercise into your life or with building a regular strength training habit get in touch for a free consultation.

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