Ahh, the marvels of the modern age. Sure, we’re still working on jet cars, but we’ve got access to the world’s information in our pockets, an abundance of cheap produce regardless of season, and machines that go “ping”. One of the downsides to all the technological wonders of our world, however, is that we’ve grown particularly sedentary. Over the past 50 years obesity rates in adults and children—not to mention the related onset of type two diabetes—has increased dramatically. And while what and how we are eating is certainly part of the problem, there’s no denying that, as a nation, we are not getting enough exercise.
According to the American Heart Association, the baseline exercise regiment for overall cardiovascular health is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity at least 5 days a week, 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity at least 3 days a week, or some hybrid of the two. “So what’s the difference between moderate- and vigorous-intensity?” you ask. Good question.
The intensity of a workout is measured by one’s heart rate. The target heart rate for moderate-intensity workouts, such as brisk walking, water aerobics or even gardening is 50-69% of one’s maximum heart rate. The target heart rate for vigorous-intensity workouts , such as cycling over 10 miles an hour, jogging or swimming, is 70-85% of one’s maximum heart rate.
Heart rates are measured in beats per minute (bpm). While there are all kinds of fancy ways to pinpoint one’s maximum heart rate, to quickly estimate simply subtract your age from 220. For example, I’m 45, so my estimated maximum would be 175 bpm. That established, I can extrapolate that my estimated target range for a moderate workout is 88 – 121 bpm; 122 – 149 bpm for a vigorous workout.
I’ll further discuss heart monitoring devices in next week’s blog, but in the meanwhile here’s a quick tip to roughly gauge your heart rate: conversation will begin to become labored when one achieves the target heart rate for a vigorous workout.
Now that we hopefully have a better understanding of the AHA’s baseline exercise recommendations, by a show of hands how many of you meet or surpass these recommendations? In 2013, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that only 50% of American adults meet this guideline. Incorporate some basic muscle training—which federal government standards include—and this number drops to 20%.
Every year millions of people resolve on New Year’s Eve to “lose weight” or “go to the gym”. And every year it becomes challenging to find an open treadmill or weight machine…at least until mid-February. So, why is that?
In their book, “NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training”, The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) attempts to understand these “resolutioners” within the framework of the transtheoretical model of behavior change. Stages of this model, as adapted by the NASM, include:
- Not yet intending to exercise
- Considering beginning to exercise in the next 6 months
- Preparation –
- Occasionally exercising
- Planning to exercise in the next month
- Believes in the health benefits of exercise though may have unrealistic expectation
- Exercising regularly for under 6 months
- Exercising regularly for over 6 months
- While the new habit (exercise) has become routine, one still may be susceptible to the allure of old habits
The NASM concludes that the lion share of resolutioners never make it past the preparation stage due to unrealistic expectations. Therefore, the role of the personal trainer is to set realistic goals and assist in the building of a social support network for their clients so that they can transcend to the Action and Maintenance phases of behavioral change.
Given that the book is a more-or-less a personal trainer manual, this conclusion is not terribly surprising, if perhaps oversimplified. I am going to suggest that those who manage to successfully alter their behavior, i.e. incorporate exercise into a weekly schedule, do so not merely because they had realistic expectations, but because somewhere in the Contemplation or Preparation phase there was a reassessment and reordering of priorities.
The simple fact of knowing you need to be more physically active doesn’t cut it. You’ll have all the best intentions, but there will always be a seemingly viable excuse waiting in the wings. Realize that your health is a priority, however, and you’ll see these excuses for what they really are.
After I decided to make my health a priority, I made a pact with myself: over the course of the next year I had to exercise to some capacity 5 days a week. This didn’t mean that I was going to give 110% every workout, but I had to show up. By the end of the year, I could probably count on one hand how many times I failed to meet that goal.
Now don’t get me wrong, this really is just half the battle…or four-fifths the battle, as Woody Allen would have us believe. Without this psychological foundation, however, the path to long-term success is significantly more challenging, if not impossible.
So before you give voice to this year’s NYE Resolution—whatever it may be—mull it over a bit before-hand and make sure you’re ready to show up.