How much exercise do I need to stay healthy?

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How much exercise do you need to help lower your blood pressure and strengthen your heart? According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both every week. You can split up that time into segments that are convenient for you, as I already mentioned. Perhaps on the weekends you have time for a thirty- to forty-minute bicycle ride or cross-country ski outing, but during the week your schedule permits two fifteen-minute brisk walks: one before work and one during lunch.

Finding time to engage in physical activity is also about time management. You might jump rope or do some resistance training while watching a favorite TV show or waiting for dinner to cook. You can also multitask: do some bicep curls and other arm resistance exercises using light hand weights while taking a walk or using a treadmill.

One question that usually arises when talking about exercise is the definition of “moderate” and “vigorous” intensity. What’s moderate for one person may be considered mild for some people yet vigorous for others. So how can you decide for yourself?

Be warned: there’s a bit of math involved here, but it’s worth knowing so you can determine what constitutes your optimal exercise heart rate (EHR).

A moderate exercise rate is one that means you are exercising at between 50 and 80 percent of your maximum capacity. Generally, this is a rate that is comfortable but somewhat challenging. You need to know your resting heart rate (RHR) before you can do the math. To take your resting pulse rate, rest quietly for at least five minutes. Place the tips of two fingers on the pulse in your wrist and count the number of beats during one minute. (Use a watch with a second hand or any accurate timepiece that counts off seconds.) You can also count the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiple by 6 or the number of beats in 30 seconds and multiple by 2. Now let’s do the math to discover your exercise heart rate.

Here’s an example of how to determine your EHR. Let’s pretend you are 50 years old and your RHR is 80. (Use your age and RHR in the formula to figure your EHR.)

  • STEP 1: (220—age) — RHR; therefore: (220 —50) —80=90.
  • STEP 2: 90 x % (SO0—80% for moderate exercise); therefore: 90 x 50% =45; 90 x 75% = 67.
  • STEP 3: Add your RHR to each resulting number: therefore: 90+ 45 = 135; 90+ 67 = 157.

Therefore, your target exercise heart rate is between 135 and 157 beats per minute. When you are physically active and your heart rate falls in this range, you should feel slightly short of breath but still able to carry on a conversation.

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