If I mention the words “exercise program,” what comes to mind? Do you think about joining a gym, sweating it out in a spinning class or maybe training for a marathon? Most people associate exercise with something hard, sweaty and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. I came across this article in the New York Times about a new book written by Gretchen Reynolds, one of their columnists. I loved her idea so much, I thought I’d tell you about it. Her book is called “The First 20 Minutes” and details the most current research about how long and how hard we should exercise.
She clearly defines how much exercise is required for health, as compared to how much exercise we need to become more fit (faster, stronger, more competitive). “The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in the first 20 minutes of being active.” Reynolds explains.
“Without being evangelical, I wanted people to understand that this is a book about how little exercise you can do in order to get lots and lots of health benefits. Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy.”
I’ve seen this so much in research; just walking 20 minutes a day lowers your risk (by quite a bit) for not only heart disease and diabetes, but cancer and depression as well. Our bodies were just made to move around during the day, and our health benefits tremendously when we do. When encouraged to exercise, I think most people feel pressure to join a gym, lift weights or start running, and perhaps it seems either too expensive, too time consuming or just too hard. Reynolds disagrees with that idea, “If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do. There are some people who honestly can’t walk, so I would say to those people to try to go to the local Y.M.C.A. and swim.” Walking is so easy and so cheap, and the best part is that you don’t have to get 20 minutes in all at once. Plenty of research supports the fact that if you walk 10 minutes in the morning, and 10 in the evening, you still reap the same benefits.
Reynolds also discusses the importance of moving around during the day, and not going too long without standing up. For more information on the dangers of sitting, check out one of our previous posts.
Others who aren’t big proponents of exercise feel that they put in plenty of time at the gym, but don’t lose much weight right away, and think it isn’t worth their time. “I think a lot of people look to exercise to help them lose weight, and when they don’t lose weight immediately with exercise, they quit. They return to the couch, and they basically never move again. What is lost in that is that fitness is almost certainly more important than fatness,” says Reynolds. Exercise, especially moderate exercise, may not lead to large weight loss if not coupled with a reduced calorie diet. I think so many people struggle here because you feel so great about all that exercise you just did, and then you drink a 200 calorie Gatorade, completely negating the caloric deficit.
I loved this quote:
“If someone starts an exercise program and improves his fitness, even if he doesn’t lose an ounce, he will generally have a longer life and a much healthier life. It would be nice if people would look at exercise as a way to make themselves feel better and live longer and not necessarily as a way to make themselves skinnier.”
How do you view exercise? Is it a way to stay thin, a way to be healthy, or both?