Recommended Types of Physical Activity

The Academy of Preventive Medicine recommends that in order to achieve real health benefits, it is necessary to regularly perform moderate-intensity physical exercises from 150 to 300 minutes a week or to perform higher-intensity exercises, but from 75 to 150 minutes a week. One can also combine exercises of medium and high intensity, it is better to distribute them throughout the week. Additional health benefits are achieved from moderate physical activity with a total duration of 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.

The most popular are the so-called aerobic types of training. It is also recommended that you do muscle strengthening exercises and flexibility exercises. High-intensity interval training is considered very beneficial for health. Below is more detailed information on these types of exercise.

Aerobic exercises

Aerobic exercise, called endurance exercise or cardiac exercise, is a physical exercise in which people rhythmically move large muscles over a certain period of time. Running, brisk walking, cycling, playing basketball, dancing and swimming are all examples of aerobic exercise. Aerobic activity makes a person’s heart beat faster. In this case, there is an increase in the respiratory rate so that the oxygen supply corresponds to the level of physical activity. Over time, regular aerobic exercise makes the heart and lungs stronger and hardier.

Performing medium-intensity aerobic exercises of about 150 minutes per week provides significant health benefits, such as reducing the incidence and risk of death from coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, depression, as well as Alzheimer’s and others types of brain disorders.

When physical activity increases from 150 to 300 minutes per week, the health benefits become even more significant. For example, a person who performs 300 minutes of exercise a week has a lower risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who do 150 minutes a week. Distributing physical activity for at least 3 days a week, in addition to health benefits, reduces the risk of injury.

The following are examples of aerobic activity by the degree of intensity:

Moderately intense activity

  • Brisk walking (2 – 2.5 miles per hour or faster)
  • Swimming in the pool
  • Cycling on flat ground at speeds up to 4 miles per hour
  • Playing tennis (doubles)
  • Active forms of yoga
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Work in the yard or around the house
  • Water aerobics and other types of water activities

Intense exercise

  • Jogging
  • Intensive swimming in the pool along the track
  • Tennis game (singles)
  • Energetic dancing
  • Cycling at speeds exceeding 4 miles per hour
  • Jumping rope
  • Intensive work in the garden (for example, digging up a garden)
  • Hiking with a heavy backpack
  • High intensity Interval Training (HIT)
  • Step aerobics or kickboxing

It is believed that two minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity is approximately equivalent to one minute of high-intensity physical activity, and, accordingly, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity are approximately equivalent to 15 minutes of high-intensity activity.

Muscle building and flexibility exercises

Muscle strengthening exercises provide additional benefits that aerobic activity does not have. This is an increase in bone strength, muscle strength and an increase in their fitness for physical activity. Muscle building exercises can also help maintain muscle mass during weight loss.

Examples of such exercises are weight lifting, working with resistance bands, as well as exercises that use body weight (for example, push-ups, pull-ups), carrying heavy loads and intensive gardening.

Efforts to strengthen muscles are especially useful if they are performed with a moderate or significant level of intensity and affect the main muscle groups of the body – muscles of the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulder and arms. Such exercises are recommended to be performed at least 2 days a week; it is desirable to diversify the exercises in order to cover different types of muscles.

Flexibility is an important part of fitness. Some types of physical activity, such as ballet or dancing, require more flexibility than others. Flexibility exercises increase the ability of joints to move across a range of movements. Stretching exercises are effective in increasing flexibility and allow people to more easily perform movements that require involvement of joints. For these reasons, flexibility exercises should preferably be included in a regular physical activity program.

High-intensity Interval training

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) is recommended to many who want to improve their health and control weight. The advantages of HIT training are that they do not take much time (only 15-20 minutes) and at the same time provide quick and effective fat burning. And this is especially important for those who do not have enough time to keep fit. It should be noted that in order to carry out HIT training, it is not necessary to go to the fitness club. If desired, the alternation of activities in the HIT style can be achieved, for example, by the outdoor exercising along the park terrain or running up the stairs.

Most HIT exercises alternate short phases of high-intensity exercises with medium and low-intensity exercises. This significantly increases the heart rate and can contribute to enhanced burning of calories (especially fat), increased endurance, maintenance of muscle mass and accelerated metabolism. In addition, some studies have shown that with such regimen, your metabolism remains elevated for a long time even after you have completed the HIT exercises. Therefore, I recommend trying to include HIT exercises in your training schedule in order to feel the true benefits of being physically active.

Before starting any new exercises, it is advisable to discuss your intentions with your doctor. HIT exercises cause a significant acceleration in heart rate, which is not always safe. Therefore, you must be sure that such exercises do not harm your health.

Many HIT exercises are aimed at putting the body into the so-called anaerobic zone. This is when the frequency of one’s heart rate reaches about 80 percent of the maximum possible (see the section above on measuring heart rate to assess fitness level). You should discuss this aspect of exercise with your doctor to ensure that your cardiovascular system is ready to withstand such level of stress. If you feel chest pain, painful breathing, or problems recovering from HIT exercises, you should stop exercising and discuss further tactics with your doctor.

If you are going to perform HIT on a treadmill, also discuss with your doctor about the condition of your lower extremities – feet, knees and hips, since running, especially high-intensity ones, causes a significant load on the spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet.

Since HIT exercises require significant energy expenditures, and also involve serious loads on the joints and the whole body, they should alternate with sufficient periods of rest.

  • Days of rest and relaxation are important for health and for achieving positive training results. Your muscles increase and gain strength mostly during rest.
  • If you did HIT on a treadmill and strength training on Thursday, then Friday is a great day to relax.
  • You may need only 1-2 days a week to relax. It depends on how many HIT exercises you perform or how intensively you practice.
  • Your days off should not be absolutely without movements. You can do stretching exercises such as yoga, or just walking.
Almaz Sharman, President, Academy of Preventive Medicine
Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty, 66 Klochkov st, office 601
+7 (727) 317-8855