You’ve heard the song before: “You got-ta move it, move it… move it!” Maybe Will.I.Am was an exercise physiologist.
Exercise, in my world, is anything that is planned, structured, and repetitive. Going to a gym on Monday and Wednesday for 30 minutes to perform sets of squats. It’s planned, it’s structured, and it’s repetitive.
Based on that same definition, walking my dog is also exercise. I plan on walking my dog for a certain period of time and I typically walk the same route. I just exercised. Albeit, I didn’t gain strength in my arms by walking my dog, nor did I walk at an intensity that would warrant the need for my heart’s left ventricle to grow (or for my body to experience all the other benefits that would improve performance). But we don’t necessarily do exercise to get performance benefits.
Health benefits of exercise
It is useful to remember that there are differences between fitness, performance, and health. When I walk my dog, I am gaining the health benefits that come with activity, but perhaps not performance benefits.
But let’s think about those health benefits for a moment. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health (1996)[i], physical activity performed most days of the week improves health in the following ways:
· reduces the risks of dying prematurely; dying from heart disease; developing diabetes; and developing high blood pressure
· reduces feelings of depression and anxiety and promotes mental health
· helps to reduce high blood pressure for those who already have the condition
· helps to control body weight
· helps to build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints
· helps older adults to move with less risk of falling
These are pretty big benefits, you’d have to agree.
To move it, or not to move it?
Most people desire the health benefits of exercise. But our ideas about exercise can sometimes be a barrier to us moving more and experiencing those benefits. If I believe, for example, that I have to run hills in -30°C to reap health benefits, I may be less likely to “move it.” On the other hand, if I believe I can become healthier by going for a 20-30 minute walk in a mall away from the cold, I may just end up doing it.
So, in terms of health benefits, what actually matters here? Is it the kind of movement? The intensity? The dose-response relationship graph[ii] below sums it up for us.
This graph shows that when people shift from sedentary (A) to moderately active (B)–roughly 150 minutes of activity per week–they reap the majority of the health benefits associated with activity. When they shift from moderately active (B) to active (C), however, the graph begins to plateau. What this means is that moving from moderate to high activity doesn’t necessarily translate to a linear increase in health benefits.
Bottom line? Just move it! This is highly encouraging, given that I could potentially experience the aforementioned health benefits without having to go to a gym or run hills in the cold!
[i] US Department of Health and Human Services. “Physical activity and health: A report of the Surgeon General.” Atlanta, Georgia: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1996.
[ii] Pate, Russell R. et al. “Physical Activity and Public Health: A recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine.” Journal of the American Medical Association, February 01, 1995; Vol. 273, No. 5, pp 402-407.