It's time to heed the call to exercise more

October 22, 2018 Providence Health Team

How many times has your health care provider encouraged you to get more exercise? How many times have you heard about the physical and psychological benefits of exercise? How often have you told yourself: I really need to go work out.

And yet, and yet. Less than a quarter of Americans meet the minimum federal guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Even in the West, where residents exercise a little more than the national average, the percentages are low.:

In Washington State, 28.9 percent meet the guidelines; Oregon, 25.8; California, 24.0; Montana, 20.2; Alaska, 27.9.

Why is this a problem? Because a lack of exercise is linked to depression, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions.

Sure, there are reasons for not working out: I don’t have time. I can’t afford a gym membership. Exercise is boring. I’m not seeing results. Exercise is painful.

But consider that every objection can be overcome and, in the long run, your health will benefit.

What the guidelines call for

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a formula for exercise. Adults ages 18 to 64 “should get at least two and a half hours (150 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity. You need to do this type of activity for at least 10 minutes at a time as intervals shorter than this do not have the same health benefits. Adults should also do strengthening activities, like push-ups, sit-ups and lifting weights, at least two days a week.”

What kind of exercise are considered moderate-intensity aerobic activity? Such things as:

  • Slow bicycling 
  • Gardening 
  • Brisk walking 
  • Ballroom dancing 
  • Using a manual wheelchair 
  • Water aerobics 

More vigorous aerobic activities are such things as: 

  • Swimming laps
  • Playing basketball or soccer 
  • Bicycling on hills 
  • Running

Muscle-strengthening activities are activities that work groups of muscles: legs, arms, chest, stomach, shoulders, etc.

The psychological benefits of exercise

While it’s easy to understand the connection between exercise and physical health, exercise also has emotional and mental benefits. As a new report published in JAMA Psychiatry puts it: “Resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status…or significant improvements in strength.”

“For some people,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, “it works as well as antidepressants.”

Some more resources

For a detailed breakdown of the federal exercise guidelines by age and gender, visit’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and find the chapter that applies to you.

We’ve talked a lot on To Your Health about the benefits of exercise. For example:

You can read about the benefits of CrossFit training, and the Everyday Better philosophy.

Guard your heart: How to prevent, survive and recover from a heart attack

How to stop being a couch potato and start exercising

Exercise may cut risk of 13 cancers, study says

Effects of drinking alcohol can be offset with exercise

Aerobic exercise is good for the mature brain

Exercise helps prevent low back pain, study says

Walk into weight loss

Five tips to help you stay youthful and healthy as you age

Looking for a skilled physician to be your partner in health? Find one near you in our provider directory.

Heart to Start: Taking exercise to heart

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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