How much is enough?

I'm often asked, how much exercise do I need to do?

With the evolution of technology, workers are more sedentary than ever. Long gone are mail rooms, the filing compactus and corporate libraries. Paper has been replaced by screens and you don't need to leave your desk to find or share information.

Humans need exercise, like we need shelter, food and water. When we don’t get enough our physiology cracks up. People are often unaware of the distinction between the various types of activity we need and some mistakenly believe that a 30-minute gym session a couple of times a week is enough. While this is a great start, we need two important elements to activity: 

  • Regular moderate intensity exercise AND
  • Incidental movement

Emerging research suggests that 81% of Australians report sitting at work ‘often’ or ‘all the time’. Concerning is the association between sedentary behaviour and premature death. Research indicates that sitting more than 7 hours per day is associated with increased mortality. People who accumulate sitting time of 11 hours per day – easy to do on the train, in the car, at work, watching YouTube, online shopping and eating meals – have a risk of dying in the next 3 years that is 40% higher than a more active person![i]

The stakes are high! Guidance material is being created by governments and authorities throughout the developed world and here is what we know: 

  • We need to achieve at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise each week.[ii] Moderate intensity exercise includes brisk walking, dancing, gardening, vacuuming, lifting weights, cycling at a steady pace and gentle swimming. Heart rate should generally be 50-70% of maximum. For a 40 year old, that’s around 90-130 beats per minute. A simpler way to determine whether your chosen activity is moderate intensity is to consider the ‘talk test’ – you might be able to say a few words but you’ll struggle to get a complete sentence out during moderate-intensity exercise. 

  • There are added health benefits to at least 1 session of vigorous intensity exercise each week. Examples including running, fast cycling, swimming laps, aerobics or pump classes, most competitive sports and some work tasks such as digging and shovelling. However, it’s important to recognise that illness and injury can get in the way of vigorous exercise and sometimes it’s better to maintain moderate exercise that doesn’t hurt rather than to join boot camp, get injured, and be out of action for 3 months. 

  • We need to seek opportunities for incidental movement, both at home and at work. Step counting is an easy way to monitor your incidental movement. The 10,000 steps goal isn’t exactly scientifically benchmarked but there is no doubt that health benefits are accrued for people who increase their step count, regardless of what that number is. If you like numbers, then consider that the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise each week is achieved by 6,000-7,000 steps per day. 

  • In the workplace, some early guidance suggests workers need to accumulate 2-4 hours of incidental movement during an 8-hour work day. Make a start today. When you enter into your calendar the next meeting, set the location as your local green space. Walk there together or convene there for a stand up meeting. 

Take mega-entreprenour Richard Branson’s advice and enjoy the benefits of the activity, the increased mental alertness, the faster meeting and the better decisions, not to mention the glucose regulation, weight management and heart disease prevention!

Consider My health for life for support with lifestyle modification.

Consider Back on Track for workplace health education. 

[i] Straker L, Dunstan D, Gilson N (2016) Sedentary Work: Evidence on an emergent work health and safety issue. Safe Work Australia