Every year, between the end of December and early January, I read a fair number of articles focused on health and wellness. My favorite this season was: "How to Be Healthy, in Just 48 Words" in The New York Times by Yoni Freedhoff, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa. The seven words devoted to exercise (the topic of interest in this column) made me applaud in delight: "Exercise as often as you can enjoy." What I like about this piece of advice is that it puts "enjoy" with "exercise," an important detail that is often overlooked when physical activity is mentioned. Later in the article, Freedhoff adds, "My exercise mantra is simple: Some is good, more is better, everything counts." It's an easily memorized refrain that provides a starting point for everyone.
You may wonder whether there is an agreed upon goal to guide us. The second edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in 2018 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends adults to engage in "at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination" of the two. Moderate-intensity aerobic activities include brisk walking, water aerobics, ballroom or line dancing. Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include running, swimming laps, aerobic dancing and jumping rope. In addition, adults need muscle-strengthening activity at least twice a week.
The document includes recommendations for children, adolescents, older adults and other groups. Besides the full guidelines, on the HHS website you can also find a list of the "Top 10 Things to Know" about them and an executive summary.
I know, the recommendations do not sound as much fun as "Exercise as often as you can enjoy," but underneath the dry language of numbers and definitions, the messages converge: if you have a sedentary lifestyle, some amount of physical activity is better than none; if you are already active, more is better and here are some guiding parameters.
I like the idea of using time to gauge physical activity, because it sets us free to choose what to do, with a focus on doing what we enjoy. If you are unsure, try different things, possibly learn something new — a good piece of advice for everybody. Start small. Set a reasonable goal for yourself if it motivates you in a positive way. Just as importantly, surround yourself with people who inspire and support you. If you need the structure of a class to get you motivated, then sign up for a class. If you work inside all day, go for a walk on the beach or hit a trail in one of our parks.
About two years ago, I decided to start running more regularly. My favorite place to run is Patrick's Point State Park during the early morning. Besides providing physical benefits, my runs have inspired a few poems and countless photos. When I started running, I did not have racing in mind. But last Aug. 3, I ran the Sand Dollar Shuffle Run on Clam Beach organized by the Six Rivers Running Club. There is so much energy when people of all ages get together on a lovely summer morning to run on the beach for the sheer fun of it. Enjoyment came unexpectedly that day and has driven me to attend other local events.
I know what you are thinking: You're wondering whether I have a fitness tracker. For a long time I used an app on my smartphone to track my walks and runs. Less than a year ago, I purchased a device to get a sense of my heart rate changes during exercise and also of my sleep time. In practice, the piece of data I look at more often is the minutes of moderate and vigorous activity for the week, as per the guidelines mentioned earlier.
If you think tracking your physical activity will act as a motivator, then go for it. But, however you decide to exercise, remember to make your moving joyful.
— Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com. She prefers she/her pronouns.