How Much Exercise Is Enough?

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Staying fit isn’t about doing more – it’s what you do that counts

There’s a lot of confusing information out there on how much exercise is enough. More isn’t necessarily better unless, of course, you’re in performance training or working up to a marathon. And walking around the house or puttering in the garden doesn’t count.

That’s because there’s a difference between “activity” and “exercise.”

“Activity is something you do every day,” says Jason Hagen, a 38-year-old award-winning expert in aging and the owner and founding partner in Calgary-based Fit Metabolism. “Exercise is planned, structured and repetitive.”

If your goal is not to train for a marathon but just to age well and lessen the risk of disease, then Hagen has a simple formula that can help. It all starts with accepting the power of exercise.

“The only thing that can counteract the aging process is exercise itself,” he emphasizes. “That’s the first thing you need to know. To date, it’s the only intervention shown to be effective.”

But it’s the kind of exercise you do that’s key.

As we age, beginning in our 30s, we start to lose muscle mass and function. It’s called sarcopenia. Hagen says the average person will lose approximately 0.5 per cent of their muscle mass per year, or roughly five per cent every decade.

And that lost muscle will never return – ever. All we can do, he says, is slow down the process. So how do we do that? Resistance training, that’s how. Hagen thinks free weights are best, but any weighted machines or strength training equipment will do. Think pushing and pulling. And it’s always a good idea to get some instruction on how to use free weights and other equipment so you avoid any kind of injury.

But we also need aerobic exercise in the mix since it’s what’s so good for our heart and lungs. That includes activities such as walking fast, swimming, running, using a cross trainer. How hard do you need to go at it? The best aerobic workouts should get you pumped, but still allow you to hold a broken conversation without gasping for air, Hagen says.

But here’s the catch.

As we get older, the ratio of aerobic to resistance in our workouts needs to change. In a nutshell, your age should equal the percentage of resistance involved.

Here’s how Hagen’s formula works:

  • At age 40, you should do 60 per cent aerobic, 40 per cent resistance.
  • At age 50, it’s 50 per cent aerobic, 50 per cent resistance.
  • At age 60, you need to do 40 per cent aerobic, 60 per cent resistance.
  • At 70, you should do 30 per cent aerobic and 70 per cent resistance.
  • …and so on

Hagen says following this simple formula and working out three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes is enough to help you age better, minimize the loss of muscle and help to maximize good health.

And if you’re one of those people who tend to skip working out or haven’t yet done any kind of exercise at all, it’s never too late to get started. Just ask Hagen.

“I see better results in people who go from sedentary to moderate exercise than I do in people who go from moderately active to highly active. You get the biggest bang for your buck when you make the jump to moderately active. That’s where you see the most return on investment.”