U.S. government guidelines on exercise are clearly heavily influenced by the notion of “exercise” as a ubiquitously nebulous concept in the collective consciousness of the general public. On the plus side of this equation, certainly it is true that any amount of exercise, even a paltry 30 minutes 6-7 days a week is better than no exercise at all. On the negative side, I do not feel that government recommendations go far enough in detailing an actionable definition of what constitutes sufficient frequency, duration and intensity most likely to offer tangible health benefits for the average person. The terms “exercise” or “moderate physical activity”, as defined by ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and government semantics, is at best a useless generalization that is open to broad interpretation by individuals, similar to my Number One pet peeve in nutritional nomenclature: “healthy diet“.
Case in point. If a person interprets “30 minutes of moderate physical activity” as sluggishly ambling around on a golf course with a caddy in tow or, even worse, driving in a golf cart around the same course, such physical activity is only marginally superior to laying on a sofa vegging out in front of a television with a beer and bag of potato chips in hand. Studies specifically show that in order to have any significant impact on chronic disease risk factors (e.g. diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, etc.), exercise must raise the heart rate to at least 65-70% of maximum for at least 30 minutes a day a minimum of 5 days/week, a nuance which is tragically missing in FDA guidelines. Certainly, a person walking on a golf course or around their block at 2 mph is at least burning a few calories, but they are not doing much to benefit their cardiovascular system or to reverse Metabolic Syndrome and insulin resistance that is endemic in sedentary individuals and those not availing themselves of aerobic heart rate zones during exercise, as I previously delineated.
Another crucial consideration in all this is a phenomenon that has only recently come to the forefront of discussion in the halls of academia, a condition informally known as ACPS, i.e. “Active Couch Potato Syndrome“, namely the quandary of a person who exercises diligently 30-60 minutes/day (in many cases, intense exercise), yet spends the remaining 23 hours of their day either sitting on their tush in front of a TV or computer screen, behind the wheel of a car stuck in traffic, or laying in bed sleeping 6-8 hours every night (the only truly requisite down time). It has been proposed by researchers that no amount of relatively brief daily exercise, 60 minutes or less at any intensity, can fully overcome the detrimental consequences of ACPS. So don’t think that just because you crushed it in the gym in the morning, that gives you free license to sit around the rest of the day or to eat whatever you want because you’ve “earned it”, but the topic of post-exercise dietary over-indulgences is a huge subject matter on its own, best reserved for a future blog post. In the meantime, just keep moving, keep walking, keep lifting heavy things, play outdoors with your children, go up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, and NEVER EVER battle for the parking spot closest to the front entrance of your gym (I have seen this with my own two eyes)!