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We hear endless recommendations for how much we should be moving: 30 minutes of exercise per day, 150 minutes per week, exercise daily, 10,000 steps per day, and on and on. Time, however, is not an accurate depiction of the quality of your exercise. I could go to the gym for 2 hours, walk on the treadmill for a bit, lift some light weights, and do some light stretching. While these are all great forms of physical activity, none of these things are going to improve my cardiorespiratory fitness or muscular strength. If I calculated how many calories I burned during this two hours, it is likely little more than I would have burned just walking around the mall for 2 hours. On another day I could go to the gym for 30 minutes, do a quick jump rope warmup, 25-minute HIIT program, and quick cool down stretch. I would burn exponentially more calories in this shorter amount of time. So, which was a better exercise day? Hopefully you would say the 30-minute HIIT day!

The calories we burn during exercise is key! This is going to be a product of type (what you do), duration (how long you work), and intensity (how hard you work). The higher the intensity, the shorter the duration needed. If you’re only tracking how long you spend at the gym, you are likely not getting an accurate picture of the quality of that workout. Heart rate monitors are a great way to help track intensity level and calories burned. You could walk on the treadmill for an hour, or you could do sprint intervals and walk in between and burn equivalent amount of calories in a fraction of the time. This is an example of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

HIIT is so effective at burning calories, because not only are you burning more during the periods of high intensity, but it takes energy to help you recover during the low intensity portions as well. In fact, HIIT is being shown to be better for weight loss and other health improvements over low-moderate intensity exercise. Stressing and straining the muscles during those high intensity periods will force the body to learn to adapt and recover and is going to help boost metabolism and improve fitness levels more than moderate activity alone.

When it comes to weight loss, metabolic improvements, heart health, and long-term health, increasing muscle mass is key. This does not mean getting “ripped.” This means working the muscles hard enough that they get stronger and more toned. This can be done both with strength training (i.e. lifting weights) or HIIT where you incorporate things like pushups, squats, burpees, and other body weight motions that will build that power and strength. Cardio was long thought to be the key to weight loss, but we are now understanding that muscle mass is key. Muscle is metabolically active, which means it is going to use calories. In addition to the calories you burn during exercise, you are going to burn more calories later as your muscles rebuild and get stronger. This is the key difference, and once again demonstrates the importance of tracking more than just the minutes you exercise.

It’s important to understand that exercise and physical activity are two different concepts. Exercise is an activity performed with the specific intention of improving health and fitness (i.e. getting stronger, faster, more powerful, etc.). Physical activity is any time we are not sitting. Light walking, running around with the kids, working in your yard, or playing pick-up sports are all great ways to be active and have huge benefits for your health! However, these things do not constitute the exercise requirements for health. It’s important to consider your goals and work with a fitness professional to ensure you have a well-rounded fitness protocol that is going to include all aspects of fitness (cardio, strength, and flexibility) and allows for adequate rest and recovery time.

Whatever type of exercise and physical activity you enjoy and will maintain is best. Long walks are certainly better than nothing! Just be sure to understand that the lower the intensity, the longer you will have to work to burn an equal number of calories. You should be burning about 2000 calories per week from exercise for best results. This could be done with 3-4 days of a 45-minute HIIT workout whereas that would take roughly 6-10 hours of walking per week, depending on your weight and how briskly you walk. Not to mention the additional days of strength training you would need to incorporate to meet those requirements as well. This is why it is simply not effective to look at how many minutes of exercise you get. You could exercise every day and still not be improving your fitness if your workouts aren’t an adequate intensity level.

Don’t feel like you have to perfect your routine overnight! It takes time to the find the best routine for your goals, lifestyle, and body type. However, there are small changes you can start implementing right away. For example, simply adding hills, stairs, or some sprint intervals to your walking route is going to boost your calorie burn in a big way!

Whether you like to hit the gym every day or only have a few hours each week for exercise, there is an exercise program out there for you! It’s all about a balance between time, type, and intensity to optimize your health and fitness. When considering your workout regimen, quality must be considered, not just quantity!

Looking for more information on optimizing your exercise routine to truly promote health? Is Guidance, Support, and Accountability what’s missing from your wellness journey? It’s time you found out! Schedule your Complimentary Salutogenic Consultation to learn more and discuss how we can help pave your way to optimal health. We are here to help you Get Healthy and Stay Healthy for Life!

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