by Victoria Breckwich Vasquez
It's noon on Wednesday at the Campanile. A group of 20 staff have stretched and are ready for their 30-minute lunchtime walk around campus. Socializing while they walk, these men and women are taking part in a moderate-intensity activity that has immediate health benefits such as more energy, better sleep and improved concentration.
You don't need to run a marathon or exercise strenuously to achieve a sense of well-being and lower the risk of heart disease, according to the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health released last year. In these times of long work weeks and numerous family responsibilities, few of us have the time for 20-60 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five days a week, which the American College of Sports Medicine recommended 20 years ago.
Today, the good news is that getting enough exercise is realistic, accessible and user-friendly.
The Surgeon General recommends a program that stresses moderate-intensity activities for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. The 30 minutes don't have to occur all at once. You can credit yourself for everyday activities such as using the stairs instead of the elevator, walking part of the way to work, or parking your car in the farthest space available and walking the rest of the way. In fact, every 5- to 10-minute dose of activity can increase energy and reduce stress. Even light exercise can improve health and performance.
An active lifestyle offers many other advantages in addition to physical ones. Eric Fong and Judy Chan join the Health*Matters walking group two to three times per week, planning their wedding as they walk hand in hand.
Regular walker Mufaro Nyachoto says she walks because it's easy and inexpensive. "My job is sedentary so I use my lunch hour to walk as much as I can."
"Walking makes me feel younger and more energetic," says Brenda Bailey, one of six leaders of the walking group. In addition to walking at noon at least three times per week, she walks to do errands, does ballroom dancing once a week and takes a strength training class twice a week.
"The goal of the new recommendations is to get everybody out there doing something," adds Sue Johannessen, Exercise Specialist and Director of the UC Fitness Lab. "Still, to achieve cardiorespiratory fitness and significant weight loss, you will need to gradually increase the intensity of the activity from 50-60 percent to 75-80 percent of your maximum heart rate, increase the time you are active from 20-30 to 30-60 minutes, and maintain your commitment to regular activity."
Raising your workout intensity burns more calories and offers the added benefit of more stamina for everyday activities like gardening, lifting and carrying groceries, and running to catch the bus.
Workout choices for increasing cardiorespiratory fitness are many and can include brisk walking, running, in-line skating and aerobic classes.
Johannessen also recommends adding a weight training component to the program.
"Weight training increases muscle mass which raises your metabolic rate so you'll burn more calories even at rest. It's also important for increased muscular strength and bone density to prevent osteoporosis."
The first step in becoming more active is the hardest. But as you begin to add activity to your day, you will see that the key to becoming active is learning to identify opportunities for fitness-and taking advantage of them as much as possible.
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Victoria Breckwich Vasquez, MPH, MA is a Health Educator/Training Specialist for Health* Matters at the University Health Service.