Dan is hardly a marathon man, but he believes in the benefits of exercise — moderate exercise. Each night after dinner, he walks about two miles at a leisurely pace. Is that enough exercise for good health?
When the aerobics movement gained momentum in the mid-1970s, the emphasis was on distance and pace. Recently, the emphasis has shifted to moderate exercise, which, according to many experts, offers most of the same benefits without the risk of injury.
American guidelines call for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. But exactly what is meant by moderate exercise?
Any exercise is better than none, and experts point out those benefits can be gained from any kind of physical activity, not necessarily something known as “exercise” performed in a health club.
Theoretically, that means that housework, gardening and similar activities can count toward your weekly 150 minute requirement. A recent study from England pushed back a bit with the finding that most housework really is not vigorous enough to qualify as moderate exercise.
In a study of 4,500 adults asked to do 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, those who counted housework as their exercise were heavier than those who did other activities. The researchers concluded that subjects were either over-estimating their amount of moderate physical activity used during housework or eating too much to compensate. “Such activity may not be sufficient to provide all of the benefits normally associated with meeting the physical activity guidelines,” the authors wrote.
In terms of heart rate, experts define moderate activity as anything that gets the heart beating at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate; vigorous, at 70 to 85 percent of capacity.
Although there are individual variations due to genetics and fitness levels, you can generally determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. That means if you are 50, your maximum heart rate is 170. To qualify as moderate, your activity has to be strenuous enough to get your heart rate to 85 beats a minute — hardly a fast pace. At 70 percent, however, your heart will be pounding away at 119 beats per minute, and you will know the difference.
In practice, you might spend the first and last five minutes at the 50 percent level, gradually working up to 70 percent before tapering off. Whether you’re walking, running, biking or climbing stairs, that qualifies as a moderate workout.
If you have a heart rate monitor strapped to your chest or use the hand grip monitors on your exercise machine, it’s easy to know if you are reaching the necessary intensity. Otherwise, you can stop briefly and check your pulse at the wrist or neck.
It probably makes more sense to go by the way you feel. If you break into a light sweat after about 10 minutes and your breathing is a bit quicker than usual, you’re probably working hard enough. You should be able to carry on a conversation but will find it hard to sing.
Another measure of intensity uses METS, or metabolic equivalents. One MET is the energy required to sit quietly; moderate intensity is defined as three to six METS.
As a rule of thumb, brisk walking at 3.5 to 4 miles per hour or biking at 10 to 12 miles per hour will use about 3 to 6 METS, depending on your level of fitness. Digging in the garden, raking leaves, mowing the lawn with a power mower or even housework might reach a similar level of intensity, but you should expect a little bit of discomfort if you want to count these chores as moderate physical activity.
Here are some suggestions:
• Wear clothing that is light and flexible and shoes that have good cushioning. If you want to get yourself in the mood, you might even wear exercise clothes.
• Create a playlist of your favorite songs that will last at least 30 minutes and enjoy yourself. You might even want to dance through your mopping and sweeping.
• The natural forward and back motions of vacuuming provides a good workout for your abdominal muscles. Pay attention to your muscles and keep them flexed. Get chairs moved and everything prepared before you start so that your movement will flow fairly continuously.
• Tidying chores are less strenuous; avoid the temptation to use them as rest periods. Instead, move rapidly, as you would with brisk walking on the trail or treadmill.
Remember, to get your heart rate to a level that’s acceptable as moderate exercise, you should: feel yourself breathing a little bit quicker and develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes.
Rupp is care coordinator for Long Term Care Authority of Enid Aging Services. Contact her at 237-2236.