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  • Writer's pictureDerrick W. Spell, MD FACP

The Various Benefits of Exercise - Part 3

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising a minimum of three times per week to facilitate weight loss. If possible, they encourage working out five days a week with an initial goal of 150 minutes of weekly exercise. This is also consistent with both the American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and the United States Department of Health Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. As your weight and overall fitness improve, you should aim to increase your weekly duration of exercise. This will be important to you in the future because working out for at least 200 minutes a week facilitates the long-term maintenance of weight loss.

The American College of Sports Medicine also specifically mentions that it is best to focus on increasing the duration of exercise before you increase the intensity. I completely agree with this approach as well. To speed up metabolism and take advantage of the after-burn effect, the minimum duration of your exercise should be thirty minutes. Exercising for thirty minutes or longer increases the likelihood that you will experience some of the previously described emotional benefits. These euphoric feelings can serve as a reward, which improves your chances of successfully turning exercise into a habit. Don’t forget that increasing the duration of the workout to at least 40-45 minutes allows you to better capitalize on the after-burn effect.

Once you have been walking regularly for several weeks or months, you can then start increasing the intensity of your workout. This will be easier to accomplish after you’ve lost a few pounds as well. You can increase the intensity of your walk by either picking up the pace or adding a level of incline. This reveals another advantage of owning a treadmill. Increasing the speed on a treadmill is simple. I find it is easier to maintain a quicker pace walking on a treadmill compared to walking around the neighborhood. And unless you live near a hilly terrain, incline training is more convenient with home equipment. Whenever you do enhance your workout intensity, I recommend augmenting only one feature at a time. I do not recommend increasing more than one element (speed, duration or slope) during the same workout session.

Increasing your exercise intensity will help in several ways. First, it will improve your overall energy level. You will feel better and have more get up and go. Boosting the intensity will also increase your caloric burn during the workout. This will further facilitate your weight loss. Lastly, the level of physical intensity correlates strongly with post-exercise energy expenditure. In other words, you will also burn more calories after you complete a more vigorous workout session. The after-burn effect will be instrumental in your future weight maintenance.

Later, it may be helpful to add different exercises to your workout routine. Muscle building activities with free weights or machines and resistance exercises will help to preserve muscle mass (thereby protecting your basal metabolic rate) and increase strength. The American Heart Association recommends twice weekly muscle building exercises for additional health benefits. Examples of recommended muscle building activities include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, heavy gardening and yoga. You can also perform exercises that use your own body weight for resistance. These include the classics such as push-ups, sit ups, squats and planks.

There are several other exercises that warrant further discussion. Aquatic exercises (swimming, water aerobics, etc.) are excellent for obese people because they are easy on the knees and lower back. If you don’t have access to a pool, you may want to join a local fitness club or the YMCA. Some clubs even offer water aerobics classes. When the weather is fitting, you can use swimming to either supplement or replace your normal workout.

In summary, exercise has many benefits for weight management as well as overall good physical and mental health. No matter what exercise (or exercises) you choose, the key is to get moving!

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