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Physical Activity, A Little Can Be A Lot

Sep 2, 2008

Every time I try to tell a patient to exercise they moan and complain, but when I say get more physical activity they all ask “what’s that. This week Gwen Stubenhofer, RN, BSN, ACLS-Instructor explains what that means and how she encourages patients to get more of it. You can print and hand out this special feature, so the patient will have an easy way to keep it all straight. Physical Activity – A Little Can Be A Lot

Physical Activity, A Little Can Be A Lot
Gwen Stubenhofer, RN, BSN, ACLS-Instructor 

Why don’t most people get enough physical activity? One reason is that doctors used to think that physical activity only improved your health if you did vigorous aerobic physical activity.  And most often that meant getting into sweats, going to a gym, exercising and sweating, getting out of sweats, showering, and driving from the gym to home or work — who has the time for all that, right? 

Scientific studies leave no doubt that regular vigorous aerobic physical activity does produce health benefits.  Vigorous aerobic physical activity is typically defined as getting your heart rate to between 70% to 85% of maximum for a period of 20 to 60 minutes. (Maximum heart rate is estimated as 220 minus a person’s age). A common recommendation based on the early studies of physical activity and health was for three hours of running each week. 

A lot of doctors assumed that less vigorous physical activity would not produce health benefits, even though there were few studies to answer that question one way or the other.  But it was a common belief — and it still persists today.  However, it’s wrong.

In the last 15 years, studies involving hundreds of thousands of people followed for many years have told quite a different story. The studies don’t dispute the benefits of regular vigorous aerobic physical activity.  Rather, they show that you really do get enormous health benefits from regular moderate physical activity — physical activity much less vigorous than aerobic physical activity.

What are the benefits from regular moderate physical activity?  How about these: dramatically lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, dementia, fractures, gallstones, erectile dysfunction.  Oh, and also dramatically lower rates of death. Have you ever heard of a pill that could do all that?  No, because there isn’t one.
How much physical activity can bring these benefits?  Walking at a pace of 3 to 4 miles per hour (taking 15 to 20 minutes per mile), for 30 minutes, at least five times a week, will do it.  But even that may seem like it would be hard for you to do.  So let’s make it easier: you don’t have to do all 30 minutes consecutively.  You can do it in pieces.

Suppose you park your car about a third of a mile from your workplace.  A brisk walk from the car to the office takes about 6 minutes. If you do that twice a day, five days a week, that’s one hour of brisk walking each week.  Climb several flights of stairs each day, at home or at work and it adds up. Get down on the floor and play with your dog, it counts.  Dusting, cleaning, lifting the laundry basket, mowing the lawn, pushing and pulling the vacuum or taking out the trash —that counts towards your good health. Just walking to and from your car when you park further away, it all adds up to get the physical activity you need to protect your health. You really can do it without breaking a sweat. It may seem too good to be true — but it is true. So why not try it?

So how do you know your patients are getting enough physical activity?  One way is to get them a simple pedometer. Another way would be to click here and share some of Dr. Sheri Colberg’s activities with them. Whatever they choose it will all add up.