Are you getting the recommended amount of exercise?

No one disputes that regular exercise not only improves general health and fitness levels, but also reduces the risk of many life-altering chronic diseases. Now it appears that a new study has found that American women are not as likely as their male counterparts to get the recommended daily amount of 30 minutes of exercise.

So what is moderate to vigorous exercise? It’s the kind of exercise where you work hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. You can talk but not sing a song out loud. Examples of moderately vigorous aerobic activity include brisk walking, water aerobics, bicycling on level ground, playing doubles tennis, and mowing the lawn with a lawn mower.

Vigorous intensity activity makes you breathe hard and fast, with your heart rate quite high. You won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. Examples of actions at this intensity level include jogging/running, swimming laps, biking fast or up hills, playing individual tennis, or playing basketball.

The most recent research, conducted at Oregon State University, included more than 1,000 men and women from a nationally representative sample. Examining the data, the researchers saw that women only got about 18 minutes of exercise a day, while men got the full 30 minutes. Of the study population, just over one in three women had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, and one in five reported symptoms of depression.

What sets this study apart from others is that it used an objective measure of activity. The subjects wore a device known as an accelerometer that can measure how active they were getting each day. And while women in the study population had better health behaviors, not getting that full 30 minutes (or more) puts them at a health disadvantage.

Those who got at least the recommended amount of exercise were less likely to report being depressed, less likely to experience problems like high cholesterol, and therefore less likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. It was noted during the study that being depressed increases the risk of having abdominal fat and perhaps insulin resistance, both conditions that are risk factors for the potentially dangerous metabolic syndrome.

As for why women don’t get that all-important 30 minutes of exercise a day, there are several explanations…

Some experts suggest that it’s around age 5 or 6 when exercise patterns begin, and since parents tend to be more concerned about girls’ safety, they restrict their activity more than boys. Another suggestion is that women who are caregivers simply cannot find more than 18 minutes per day of time for themselves. Many can’t find even that.

Exercise will not only help keep your body healthy and your weight under control, but it will also reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome. This is the name given to a group of indicators (high cholesterol and blood pressure, extra body weight) that increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even debilitating stroke.

The bottom line of the paper: Women should make an effort to get the recommended amount of exercise (30 minutes or more) per day. It should be moderate to vigorous intensity, and should not include time spent warming up or cooling down. Even ten minutes at a time is fine… if that’s all you can do for now. Just make sure you end the day having hit the all-important 30-minute mark.

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