How Much Exercise Should We Actually Be Doing?

Everybody knows that exercise is important for those of every ability. It gets harped on enough by every medical (and non-medical) professional in the world! So we all know this for a fact, however, the confusing part can be exactly HOW much exercise is good for us and just WHAT type of exercise is good for us. Did you know that the World Health Organisation (WHO) actually has specific recommendations on exactly what we should be doing to maintain and improve our health? Let’s break it down.

Let’s start with kids and adolescents – this is applicable for all abilities.

  • Should do at least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week.

Aerobic exercise means something that gets your heart rate up, where you may end up a bit out of breath or puffed. Moderate to vigorous means you should still be able to hold a conversation, even if you’re a bit out of breath. This can be any type of activity you enjoy; walking, swimming, dancing, boxing, flailing your hands in the air - or any variation of these. The great take away from this advice isn’t that there is a specific TYPE of activity that you have to do, but you just have to find something you enjoy doing that gets your heart rate up, and aim for an hour every day.

  • Should incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 days a week.

Vigorous aerobic intensity means you are doing some type of activity where you’re struggling to hold a conversation at the same time. Think dancing around your living room to the best of those “back in the day” tunes, having a rollerblading race with a mate or doing some type of HIIT workout. Exercises that strengthen muscle and bone generally mean some type of activity that involves weight bearing and the use of weights.

  • Children and adolescents should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary, particularly the amount of recreational screen time.

Well, this one is pretty obvious, but it has been shown that higher sedentary behaviour is associated with poorer health outcomes

The recommendations for ADULTS goes like this - this is applicable for all abilities

  • All adults should undertake regular physical activity.

There it is. All adults should undertake REGULAR physical activity.

  • Adults should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week, for substantial health benefits.

I always have to read this about 3 times and count on my fingers whenever I reference this. Basically, to make it easier to understand – this is saying that we should be doing at least 2 ½ - 5 hours of moderate exercise a week (walking the dog, doing some yoga, snorkeling) OR 1 ¼ - 2 ½ hours of vigorous exercise a week (think Jacobs ladder or playing beach volleyball) (OR a combination of those.)

  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.

On top of the above, we should ALSO load up our entire body in a strength capacity (weight training/activities that involve body weight as a minimum) on 2 days a week. Using weights is the easiest way to get this done and if you’re using suitably heavy weights for YOU, will naturally get your heart rate up at the same time.

  • Adults may increase moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to more than 300 minutes; or do more than 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week for additional health benefits.

This is a bonus recommendation that they suggest for EXTRA health benefits – if you do more than the suggested times they have recommended for the above, look out – you are health personified!

For older adults living with a disability, this additional recommendation has been added to the above: (personally, I believe this should be applied to all older adults, no matter their ability)

  • As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults living with disability should do varied multicomponent physical activity that emphasises functional balance and strength training at moderate or greater intensity on 3 or more days a week, to enhance functional capacity and prevent falls.

So, do activities that challenge your balance and challenge you but do them in ways that are applicable to your life. For example, if all your cupboards are up high in the kitchen, incorporate balance exercise that involve looking and reaching above your head. Improve your strength by doing a simple exercise (that you have to do multiple times a day anyway) – getting out of your chair (without using your hands). A simple exercise of standing up out of your chair and sitting back down, without using the arm rests, works on strengthening your muscles, will get your heart rate up and is practicing a move that you will have to do over and over in your week (i.e is functional).

In a nutshell:

(you skipped straight to this part, didn’t you?)

So, to summarise, if we’re spending about 2-3hours a week doing some sort of activity that gets our heart rate going (either just a bit or a lot) and then spending 2 days doing weight training (or some form of bodyweight activity/exercise using extra load/weights) PLUS including a variety of exercise that we participate in, then we are ticking all the right boxes for positive health outcomes. It doesn’t really matter WHAT we do in terms of exercise so much as making sure we’re doing an activity that gets our hearts beating, our grins grinning and our bodies loading.

DISCLAIMER – as always – these are the RECOMMENDATIONS for maintaining a great level of good health. Please remember that if you can’t do the above, that any type of exercise is still beneficial. IF all you can get around to doing is a 15min walk around the block every day – that is still hugely beneficial to your overall health. Please don’t think that because you aren’t able to manage what they have recommended that you just give up trying all together.

I hope that makes a bit of sense and helps you figure out an exercise plan moving forward to stay your strongest, healthiest self! To read more, head to the WHO website where we referenced these facts from (click here).

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