The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), recommend that Canadians of all ages spend significant amounts of time engaged in moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity:
60 minutes daily for children aged five to 17 years including vigorous-intensity activities at least three days each week)
150 minutes weekly for adults aged 18 and up, in bouts of 10 minutes or more
Moderate-intensity activities made you sweat a little and breathe harder- for example, walking quickly or riding a bicycle. You can generally talk, but not sing. Vigorous-intensity activities make you sweat more significantly and be ‘out of breath' - for example, running or swimming. You may be able to say a few words at a time, but then you'll need to catch your breath.
CSEP also advises children to participate in activities that strengthen muscle and bone – for example, running, walking and yoga - at least three days a week, and adults to do the same at least two days a week. Adults 65 and older may want to add activities that enhance balance to help prevent falls.
All of that may sound like a lot. How can the busiest among us fit in two and half hours of physical activity each week? The good news is that you don't necessarily have to hit the treadmill and take up weight-lifting - though that may be part of your strategy. One of the best ways to make sure you get enough exercise is to choose physical activities that you enjoy and that fit into your lifestyle.
Activities for bright, sunny days
Do you like tennis, golf basketball or lawn bowling? Commit to playing your favorite sport at least once a week. Scheduling a game on the same day and time – whether it's Monday evening or Wednesday morning - helps to get you into a routine. Joining in a league or getting a buddy to play with you helps keep you motivated, week after week.
If you're not into organized sports, ask co-workers if they're interested in joining you for lunchtime walk a couple of times a week, or head out with family or friends for after-dinner strolls. Think about whether you can make your commute more physically active - for example by biking to work or getting off the bus one or two stops earlier and walking the rest of the way. And, when you drive to the grocery store of other shops, park at the furthest end of the parking lot.
When you're making plans with your family, head out to a park instead of a movie. Play tag. Discover a nature trail. Or simply get everyone involved in planting and tending your own garden - mowing the lawn, raking leaves and digging up earth can, after all, be both moderately aerobic and strengthening. The key is to try out new things, teach what family members enjoy most and then focus on those activities.
When the weather doesn't cooperate
April showers- or wet weather at any time of the year - can derail the best intentions, so make sure you have back-up plans. On days when it's not pleasant outside, or the soggy ground is slippery and unsafe, consider indoor activities.
Meet a friend at the mall for a brisk walk and look for opportunities to take the stairs rather than an escalator of elevator. Sign up for swimming lessons in your condo or at a local community centre. Register for a dance or yoga class one evening each week.
You may also want to join a gym so you have access to their facilities through rain, humidity, sleet and snow – whatever the weather throws our way. Making a gym routine part of your physical activity plan makes it easy to find classes that appeal to you and you may make new friends who also value and are reaping the benefits of regular exercise. Moral support goes a long way towards helping anyone stick to physical activity resolutions.
Whatever route you decide to take towards better fitness, keep in mind that the more different the activities you do, outdoors an indoors, the more likely it is that you'll strengthen different muscle groups while gaining all the benefits of aerobic physical activity. Furthermore, every step really does count - and even half an hour of leisure time spent away form the television or computer, engaging in moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity, will make a difference.
Finally, remember that if you are not sure if certain types or amounts of physical activity are appropriate for you, you should consult a health professional. And it's always a good idea to talk t your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Test your knowledge
See how much you know about physical activity by taking the Public Health Agency of Canada's 10-question Physical Activity Quiz at phac-aspc.gc.ca/app/pag-gap/Facebook/beactive.
Benefits of being Active
According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), following the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines can help to:
Reduce the risk of chronic disease and premature death
Maintain functional independence and mobility
Improve fitness and improve of maintain body weight
Maintain bone health and avoid osteoporosis
Improve mental health, including morale and self-esteem
What kinds of chronic diseases might you be able to avoid by following CSEP's recommendations? The Public health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says there are more than 25 chronic conditions that regular exercise can help to prevent, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, and type 2diabetes.
PHAC adds that research has found that up to half of the functional decline people experience between age 30 and 70 is not due to aging but to inactive lifestyles. So it seems that staying active and strong can help you keep doing the things you enjoy longer.