How to Start a New Exercise Habit that Can Last (and Extend) a Lifetime: Unpacking the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. | Part 1 of 4

By Kevin Stahl, PT, DPT

It’s almost here: New Years Day, 2023. 

With the coming of January, many of us reflect on the past year with our minds full of holiday cheer, reveling in the festivities of the past few months. We ate candy and desserts, consumed copious beverages of varying healthful quality, and likely spent many an hour reclined on the couch dozing off our latest feast or sitting in a car or plane, traveling.

We also, likely, worked long hours, fretted over our loved one’s health, and lost some sleep from either the stresses of obligation or even physical pain.

The end of the year is full of joy, but also stress. We often look to the month after December as a chance to reassert our will over our schedules and our waistlines. But change is difficult. One change almost all of us consider when listing our New Year’s resolutions is to start or increase our current exercise program. 

This is wonderful goal to make and an even better one to accomplish. “But how do I do it?” we ask ourselves. “What do I do? Where do I start?” Wise questions. 

Last January, Dr. Jacqueline Dagostino, physical therapist, board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist, and Director of Rehabilitation at our Chula Vista location, outlined the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. You can read her concise summary of the benefits of regular physical activity and the guidelines here.1

To quickly review the guidelines for adults and their benefits:

  • Research has shown a 19-21% reduction in risk for all-cause mortality (meaning all different reasons, both natural and pathological that lead to death) for individuals who complete between 150 – 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise and 2 – 3 full-body resistance exercise sessions per week.2

This is truly wonderful news. It means there is something nearly everyone can do to improve their health outcomes (the long-term results of their lifestyle, their environmental factors, and their genetic predisposition) and it does not cost you anything, except for the time needed to accomplish it (that is, unless you prefer to exercise at a gym or need specific equipment to be active).

Now, for some, this is all the information we need to lace up our tennis shoes and get sweating. For others, this “answer” to the questions above only leaves us more uncertain about what our next step should be. 

Some questions you might have: 

  • “What is the difference between moderate and vigorous intensity of exercise?”
  • “What counts as moderate exercise?”
  • “How do I know if I’m already getting enough exercise or not?”
  • “Can I do more than that amount and get more benefits?”
  • “Will resistance training increase my risk of injury?”
  • “Will exercise hurt my progress if I’m already recovering from an injury or surgery?”
  • “Where does stretching come into all this?”3
  • …and so many more…

Over the next four weeks leading to January 1st, 2023, we’re going to discuss the different types of exercises recommended in the guidelines and how YOU can start a life-long practice of physical activity.

Even more importantly, we’re going to talk about how even the smallest amount of activity, spread throughout the day has been shown to be helpful for reducing the risk of chronic disease. 

And for all you advanced folks out there who already meet the guidelines: We’ll talk about what kinds of extra health benefits you can get from increasing your current exercise regimen or how to fine-tune your approach to maximize your exercise efficiency.

Very Important

If you are currently undergoing physical therapy at one of our clinics, be sure to discuss with your therapist how you can begin or modify aerobic and/or resistance exercises to perform them safely with consideration to your current treatment needs.

Next Week…

  • We’re going to define some terms related to the aerobic exercise recommendations
  • We’ll give you some low-tech tools to determine what moderate and vigorous intensity exercise is for you, personally
  • We’ll talk about just how short a bout of exercise must be in order to be health-promoting (spoiler: it’s less than you think) 
  • AND we’ll discuss some caveats for knowing when certain health conditions might impact how you exercise. 

See you next week!

  1. How much should you exercise each week?
  2. American Heart Association
  3. Do I need to stretch?