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Healthy Weight Center

Working Toward a Healthier Weight

Working toward a healthier weight is one of the most important lifestyle decisions you can make for improving your overall personal health and well-being.  In addition to the benefits of more energy and strength, keeping your weight at a healthy level can lower your risk of developing diseases such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer. Even losing a few pounds can have health benefits.

Getting started on a new physical activity program can be an overwhelming task. Be sure to consult with your physician prior to beginning a vigorous exercise program and follow any restrictions he/she recommends. Because you are moving from being less physically active to becoming more active, it is important that you start gradually with exercises that you enjoy and are not too tiring.

Keep in mind the following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) physical activity guidelines for healthy adults:

 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and
 muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).


 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and
 muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).


 An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and
 muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).

For even greater health benefits, the CDC recommends 300 minutes each week (~40 minutes each day) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 150 minutes (~20 minutes each day) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, in addition to the muscle-strengthening activities listed above.

So, what kinds of activities count? Aerobic activity or "cardio" is any activity that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster - as long as you're moving at a moderate or vigorous intensity for at least 10 minutes at a time.  Examples include walking, running, and swimming, and bicycling.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell is that you'll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song. Walking fast, pushing a lawn mower, water aerobics are activities that require moderate effort.

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Jogging, running, fast cycling all require vigorous effort.

A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

There are many ways you can do muscle-strengthening activities, whether it's at home or the gym. You could try lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (i.e., push ups, sit ups), heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling), or yoga.

Be sure you build up over time, that is, gradually increase the amount of time and intensity of your exercise. When beginning an exercise program, 5-10 minutes of activity may be all you can do. If you want to do more vigorous-level activities, slowly replace those that take moderate effort like brisk walking, with more vigorous activities like jogging. Be sure to start and end each session with stretching.

I recommend you chart your progress by recording the type of exercise you performed and the duration in a notebook. Don't get discouraged if you don't see results right away. Keep your focus on the process and celebrate the small steps along the way.


CDC Physical Activity Guidelines

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Oct 30, 2009

Brian C Focht, PhD, FACSM, CSCS Brian C Focht, PhD, FACSM, CSCS
Assistant Professor of Sport & Exercise Sciences
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University