Five science-based tips to make your workout easier

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Five science-based tips to make your workout easier

There is rarely enough time in the day to accomplish everything we set out to do, and when time is short, physical exercise is often sacrificed. American guidelines recommend including two and a half hours of moderate physical activity in our lives every week — and finding time for weight training.

I sometimes find this guideline difficult to follow, and I’m not the only one. In 2020, only 25% of adults in the United States followed these recommendations. That’s why I was curious about research: how much physical activity does a person need to do to live longer and reduce their risk of suffering from chronic diseases? How often do you really need to work out?

Here are some research-based insights that might get you excited about the idea of ​​exercising.

Your workouts can be short

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, with activities such as cycling or swimming. This corresponds to just over 20 minutes a day. But you can benefit even if you do less than that, said I-Min Lee, a public health researcher who studies exercise at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The first 20 minutes of physical activity per session confers the greatest health benefits, Lee said, at least in terms of longevity. When you continue after that, the payoff in terms of tangible health outcomes diminishes.

A study published in March estimated that 111 lives could be saved every year if Americans over 40 years of age got ten minutes more exercise a day than they currently do.

But what if you only have five or ten minutes to exercise? Go deep. “A lot of things happen in the body from the second you start exercising,” explained Carol Ewing Garber, an expert in the science of human movement at Columbia University Teachers College.

And you can experience mental health benefits, including reduced anxiety and better sleep, right after moderate to intense physical activity.

Workouts don’t have to be intense.

If the idea of ​​high-intensity interval training and hard-core spin classes makes you want to run away, don’t worry. You don’t have to sweat a lot or feel exhausted after a workout to reap some benefits.

Any physical activity that makes your heart beat a little faster is helpful. If you’ve never monitored your heart rate when you exercise, it might be worth a try. For moderate exercise, the recommended target is to reach approximately 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. (To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220). Many people achieve this goal with brisk walking, said Beth Lewis, a sport and exercise physiologist at the University of Minnesota.

Estimating your maximum heart rate can help you assess how hard you should walk, run, or cycle. But it’s not perfect, as your natural heart rate when you exercise may be higher or lower.

Additionally, fitness and heart rate levels can vary between people of the same age, and not all types of exercise raise heart rate equally. It may be a case to talk to your doctor before setting your goals.

“Just moving the body in some way will be beneficial,” Garber said. “That’s a really important message.”

Focus on health, not weight loss

Many people exercise with the goal of losing weight, but simply increasing your physical activity usually does not work.

In a 2011 review of 14 published scientific papers, scientists found that large-bodied people who did at least two hours of aerobic exercise a week lost just 1.5 kg over six months.

And in a small 2018 clinical trial, women who did high-intensity circuit training three times a week had no significant weight loss after eight weeks (but gained muscle).

Exercise improves overall health, and studies suggest it has a greater effect on life expectancy than body type. Regardless of your measurements, exercise lowers your risk of heart disease, some cancers, depression, type 2 diabetes, anxiety and insomnia, Lewis said.

Exercising only on the weekend is also fine.

I’ve always assumed that the healthiest people exercise almost every day, but research suggests that’s not the case.

In a study published last month, researchers followed more than 350,000 healthy American adults for an average of more than 10 years. They found that people who exercised at least 150 minutes a week on one or two days a week were no more likely to die for any reason than those who accumulated the 150 minutes a week into shorter sessions. Other studies by Lee and his colleagues reached similar conclusions.

When it comes to possibly living longer, “it’s the total amount of activity per week that makes the difference,” Lee said. But, she pointed out, if you exercise more often, you are less likely to injure yourself.

Stretching is optional

The recommendations to stretch before and after workouts irritate me, especially if I’m short on time. But research suggests that stretching doesn’t actually reduce your risk of injury. “In the past, stretching was seen as a necessary part of an exercise session: ‘if you don’t stretch, you’re going to hurt yourself,'” Lewis said. “That idea is wrong.”

Instead of static stretching—doing things like push-ups to place your hands on your feet—Lewis recommends doing dynamic stretches before exercise, for example standing and rocking each leg gently back and forth.

But she explained that static stretching can help improve muscle flexibility and joint mobility. In any case, now I know I don’t have to worry if I don’t have time to stretch.

Translation by Clara Allain

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