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Ask the Doctor: How Often Should You Exercise?

The amount of time we spend exercising is all about our own goals. Read more for some guidelines.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of exercise, if you'd like a health or chiropractic related question featured here next week, please email me directly at QureshiDC@gmail.com. This column is for and about you.

I didn't receive any questions last week from readers, so I'm borrowing one I get a lot at my office:

How much should we exercise? Is there a minimum? Can I overdo it?

The amount of exercise we need each week really varies on our own personal goals. There are a lot of exercise studies out there talking about how much exercise is good for us, and this can be pretty confusing and daunting to look at. I don't believe there is a 'perfect' amount to exercise; I believe in a routine that is going to work well within a schedule, something that someone will stick with, and something that is fun and mentally engaging.

If you're a busy person, juggling family and career, maybe breaking up exercise throughout the day might be a good answer. Some preliminary studies have shown that exercising 10 minutes at a time, 3 times a day, can be beneficial.  You may not be completing marathons with an exercise routine like that, but it can help to maintain health and keep your metabolism burning throughout the day.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has also become fairly common lately because of it's appeal - high intensity workouts that last about 20-25 minutes.  Usually this is something you'd want to incorporate with something else throughout the week - maybe doing HIIT 2 or 3 times a week, and some lighter work another 2 or 3 days. 

If you have certain training goals, like marathons, triathlons, and the like, you just need to put the time in to get the endurance you need to complete longer events. I'm not sure if there's too many ways to shortcut that, at least none that I've heard from my patients that regularly train for longer endurance events. 

My general advice for a minimum amount of exercise to maintain cardiovascular and respiratory health is to find 30 minutes about 3 or 4 times a week to walk or lightly jog. This advice comes from having read different studies over the years and hearing my patients' experience with this type of routine.

If you want to gain muscle, get stronger, or compete in events, this type of routine won't work well. When I first started training in karate at age 15, I only went two times a week (classes were 1.5 hours). While I made gains in my technique, I wasn't putting in enough time. After the first year, I started going about 4-5 days a week, and it was in that time I really made some progress with my technique. So, depending on your activity, it will also take time to gain skill and proficiency. 

In terms of exercising too much, yes it can and does happen. The athletes I see typically over-train and their bodies pay for it. There is a fine balance of doing the work you need to do, but not increasing the loads too quickly (i.e. going from running two miles at a time to seven, or lifting heavy weights too quickly). It's also a bad idea to workout every day. Your body needs time to rest and recover and without at least one solid rest day, it doesn't get the break it needs. 

It's important to do something fun as well - then it doesn't seem like a chore, but something you're excited to do. This is really the key to maintaining any kind of exercise routine. Also, play with your routine a little if you find it's not working for you. There's no single approach to take - what works for me may not work for you and vice versa. We all have different bodies with different abilities. Play to your strengths and improve your weaknesses!

Have a great week, and again if you'd like your question featured here next week, please email me!

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