Just last month, the American College of Sports Medicine announced that we should strive for 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise, plus strength-training and stretching. And along with that statement, they reassured: “You can do less and still get the benefits.” The guidelines also suggest that it’s sufficient to take three 10-minute brisk walks five days a week to meet the minimum, or do nothing Monday through Friday and log all of your exercise on the weekend. Now, another report comes out (this time from the journal Circulation) stating, not only do you not have to put in a full 150 minutes a week to lower your risk of heart disease, but even a little exercise can provide health benefits.
While the report does state that 150 minutes a week is optimal, hyping the fact that it’s OK to do less is not sending a health-inspiring message. In a country where two-thirds of our population is overweight or obese, 50% of adults don’t meet the weekly 150-minute minimum and 31% don’t exercise at all, should we really continue to lower the bar? Are we that afraid of backlash from people saying they can’t possibly do that much exercise?
I believe so. Twenty one minutes a day of exercise is not a lot. In fact, I don’t think it’s nearly enough. Not only should we encourage fitness guidelines that are much higher, we should inspire people to make exercise a major part of their everyday life–not tell them that three short walks around the block will suffice.
I used to be a personal trainer and fitness coach. Before I got my certification, I had aspirations that this would be a fulfilling and rewarding occupation filled with many Rocky-esque moments. I would inspire people to get in their best shape, I would train hundreds of people to run their first marathon, I would change people’s lives by helping them change their bodies. While I did have some clients who fit this mold and were a joy to work with, there were also plenty who were uninspired and unwilling to do the work. Week after week, I would listen to them complain about their failing weight loss and lack of athletic progress, followed by a slew of excuses on why they hadn’t been doing their assigned workouts in between our sessions. I don’t have the time…I’m too busy/tired/slammed at work…woke up too late…it was too cold/too hot… In short, they weren’t taking the necessary responsibility to make themselves fit.
Granted, some of my clients were given schedules that included more than 150 minutes of exercise a week (because you can’t train for a marathon or even lose a significant amount of weight without putting in more). Yet, the requirements were still fairly easy to meet: 40 to 60 minutes, six days a week. Anyone who says they don’t have time for that, I don’t buy it. It’s just an excuse. But, even so, when I lowered those numbers and adjusted their schedules, thinking maybe I was being too aggressive and too demanding, you know what? They still didn’t meet their daily goals.
From that I learned making exercise easier and less time consuming won’t help people become more fit. It does the opposite. It’s kinda like growing up and having your parents expect all A’s from you. If you got the occasional B, that was OK. But had they set the bar at all B’s, would you really be motivated to bring home any A’s or would your report card then have a bunch of C’s?