Saturday, 21st August 2021

How much exercise?

So how much exercise should you take?

The effectiveness of exercise is proportional to its intensity and total dose. From what I said last week, you would be right to presume that optimal exercising should be about 30 to 40 minutes of exercise three or four times per week to a level which makes you reasonably out of breath. This is also sufficient exercise to have a highly significant effect in both the prevention and treatment of a number of diseases.

It is not enough exercise if you wish to compete as a serious sportsman. Committed runners, cyclists, squash players, footballers and competitive tennis players for instance need to be far fitter than would be allowed by this relatively modest regime – but they do risk injury for their sport and the older they become the bigger a problem this becomes.

Department of Health Guidelines

The current NHS Guideline recommends a mix of aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening.

“To stay healthy, adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do:

  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
  • An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week (for example 2 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking), and
  • muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.”

What counts as moderate exercise?

One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days a week.

Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most people include:

  • walking fast
  • water aerobics
  • riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
  • doubles tennis
  • pushing a lawn mower
  • hiking
  • skateboarding
  • rollerblading
  • volleyball
  • basketball

Moderate-intensity activity will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you’re working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk, but you can’t sing the words to a song.

What counts as vigorous-intensity activity?

There is substantial evidence that vigorous-intensity activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate intensity activity.
Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most people include:

Vigorous-intensity activity means you’re breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

In general, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

What counts as muscle-strengthening activity?

The caption to this week’s illustration is the Mae West quote: ‘I go for two kinds of men. The kind with muscles and the kind without.’ 

Muscle strength is necessary for daily activities, to build and maintain strong bones, to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure and to help maintain a healthy weight.
Muscle-strengthening exercises are counted in repetitions and sets. A repetition is 1 complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. A set is a group of repetitions.
For each activity, try to do 8 to 12 repetitions in each set. Try to do at least 1 set of each muscle-strengthening activity. You’ll get even more benefits if you do 2 or 3 sets.

What about golf?

The DoH recommendations ignore golf and what an excellent exercise it is. It combines long walks with concentration, social interaction, a challenge and the possibility of increasing its intensity if you pull your clubs or, even better, if you carry. More of this next week.

PS: Hampshire Open Studios

August sees the Hampshire Open Studio initiative. Many artists across the county open their studios for visits by the general public. One such artist is the excellent illustrator of these blogs, Toni Goffe. As well as drawing pictures for the blog his cartoons also appear in Private Eye and The Oldie. However he is much more than a cartoonist. His humorous cat pictures are famous and he also paints other animals, landscapes and scenes of everyday life.

He is open today and tomorrow (21, 22 August) and then from Friday to Monday next week (27-30 August) from 10am to 4pm. If you live in or near Alton do go along – Address The Manse, 56 Ackender Road, Alton GU34 1JS. Bargains galore!

9 responses to “How much exercise?”

  1. Chris Everett says:

    What is your view on squash as an anaerobic, and therefore potentially dangerous sport, even in the fit?
    I attended two squash deaths. One was middle aged and very fat: he had taken little exercise for years and tragically, suddenly decided to have a game with a friend. The other was in his fifties and played regularly three or four times a week and was considered very fit..

    As a player myself, subsequently I became only too aware that in a long vigorous rally there was no time to breathe!

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Many thanks Christopher.
      Squash is an aerobic exercise – though sometimes pushing the players to their maximal aerobic capacity. The danger is the very high heart rates which may be reached during a fiercely contested game. In a recent blog (14.08.21) you will see the rising incidence of cardiac problems with increased intensity shown on the “How hard” graph.
      The risk of cardiac arrest is increased for anyone by vigorous exercise but to a much less extent in the fit than the unfit. Your unfit casualty was at high risk (use squash to keep fit not to get fit) and your fit casualty was at much lower risk but unfortunately not at no risk. If the latter was to suffer a cardiac arrest it was because he was at risk for other reasons. Regular exercise decreases risk but cannot eliminate it.

  2. Irwin says:

    The Government advice is for 19-64 year olds. Could you please write an article on exercise for the over than 64s, and the much older. Better still, could you also advise on exercise for those limited by arthritis.

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Many thanks Richard – an excellent question but one that is very hard to answer. I am aware that most of what I write is aimed at those who have the capacity to follow my advice and that may be very difficult for people with various disabilities, particularly joint problems.

      The DoH guideline does include the over 65s. “Exercise Guidelines in the UK. Adults (19-64 years old) and older people (65+): 150 mins – two and half hours – each week of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (and adults should aim to do some physical activity every day). Include muscle strengthening activity twice a week.” In other the advice is the same for the over 65s as for the under 65s – it just gets increasingly ignored as time goes by!

      I am no expert on particular exercise regimes but I do have a couple of thoughts for those with arthritis:
      1. Joints don’t like being still which is why they give maximum problems first thing in the morning. Keep painful joints moving as much as possible by passive movement and other exercises which do not put pressure on the joint.
      2. Keep the muscles as toned as possible by pushing against resistance – contracting the muscles without joint movement. Charles Atlas made a fortune with this system.
      For more precise advice a musculo-skeletal physiotherapist is probably the best person.

  3. Chris Francis says:

    What exercise regime should those in their 80s undertake

    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Thanks Chris
      Chronological age is, I believe, irrelevant! The 81 year old should do as much as the 79 year old but as the years go by it does get harder. Do what you enjoy but sadly we all have to recognise that we do become gradually less vigorous as we get older. However those who maintain a regular exercise habit do age much more slowly than those who do not. The fit 85 year old can maintain the physical abilities of the unfit 60 year old.

  4. William says:

    For the older people who wish to remain mobile and still in particular want to ski, I strongly recommend an E-bike. We live in a fairly hilly county and it stops the hills being daunting as you can choose how much help you allow yourself and as the skiing season approaches you can reduce the help level. And it strengthens exactly those muscles you need to ski without any impact or boredom.

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