WHO recommends 150 minutes of light aerobic activity a week to stay healthy and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Two and a half hours – is it enough? Can it be too much for some people? And are there cases when you should not exercises at all?
Exercise against disease
TIme and again research proves that people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, asthma, cancer, and other chronic conditions. The risk reduction is not the same for all diseases, though: exercise is most effcacious for preventing coronary heart disease and least so for breast cancer.
These 150 minutes of light aerobic activity can consist of brisk walking, cleaning the house, washing dishes, and other chores; the same effect can be gained by running for 75 minutes. However, WHO notes that additional weight-bearing activities are necessary to keep the bones strong, especially in older age. It can be gardening (carrying buckets, etc.), bringing shopping bags home, weight lifting, or yoga.
Are 150 minutes enough? A recent study suggest that in order to get the full benefits, one must exercise five times more! For example, if following the WHO guidelines reduces the risk of diabetes by 2%, light exercise for 10-12 hours a week (or 6 hours of intense training) lower the risk by 20%!
And what about the people who already suffer from chronic disease? Exercise is not just beneficial, but necessary for them, even though some activities may have to be excluded.
Run your way out of depression
Apart from our body, exercise can heal our psyche, too. Intense physical activity triggers the release of serotonin and endorphin hormones, which help regulate. For that reason, exercise can be used to treat depression (details here).
Interestingly, physical training can also boost and preserve our cognitive abilities. Higher heart rate stimulates neurogenesis – the growth of new nerve cells – in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning – read the study here). Some research also links exercise to a lower risk of Alzheimer.
Exercise and old age
Unfortunately, it is often the senior citizens who abstain from physical training and spend their time in front of the TV. The recommended weekly norms of exercise for old people are the same 150 minutes (or 10 hours, if you follow the new advice mentioned above). It is especially important to devote that time to load-bearing exercises, coordination, and balance (to prevent fractures), as well as to stretching and flexibility training to preserve the range of movement.
Is it always good for you?
Of course, certain health problems can prevent one from doing one or another type of exercise. But are there people who should not exercise at all? As it turns out, yes. A rare disease called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which affects around 1 million people in the US, is a debilitating condition that was long considered psychological, but in fact seems to have physiological causes. CFS can be made much worse by exercise, often leaving patients bed-ridden or in a wheelchair. So far, there is no cure.
Luckily, very few people suffer from CFS. For the rest of us, there is simply no good excuse to avoid exercise. Do not focus on just one activity – run, swim, dance, stretch, do gardening, and more. Start with 10 minutes a day and build up – just remember to keep it fun.