How much exercise is enough exercise?
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How much exercise is enough exercise?

YOU’VE probably seen the reports by now, pretty much every news network in every corner of the world has picked it up. As they should, it’s a truly global issue to do with our collective health, laziness and seeming reluctance to exercise.

More than a quarter of people worldwide are not doing enough exercise and are at risk of a whole raft of health risks associated with inactivity, a new study from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found. That’s 1.4 billion people at a heightened risk of deadly disease due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Not to scare you as you’re no doubt sitting comfortably somewhere reading this on your computer or smartphone, but lack of exercise has been linked to similar risk factors as smoking and obesity.

These include increased risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, and depression. Not a nice lineup.

In the study released Wednesday, the WHO includes data from 358 surveys across 168 countries, amounting to a total of 1·9 million participants.

They uncovered a notable difference between the sexes with 23 percent of men globally taking insufficient physical activity, compared to 32 percent of women. East and Southeast Asia is the only region to buck this trend, however, with only 16.9 percent of women lacking exercise; less than one percentage point ahead of the men at 17.6.

South Asia, however, was one of the worst regions in the world with a whopping 43 percent of women not getting enough exercise, compared to just 23 percent of men.

Talking to the BBC, Dr Fiona Bull of the WHO, said this inequality between men and women is likely caused by a combination of factors, including women’s fear for their safety if they exercise outside, constraints due to child and family care, and restrictions on free movement in some cultures, all of which makes it harder for women to exercise.

High-income countries were found to be far worse than low-income when it comes to getting moving. Latin America and the Caribbean are the worst regions, with high-income western countries not far behind.

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Special commendation goes to Cambodia as the country in East and Southeast Asia with the lowest prevalence of inactivity at 10.5 percent. The Philippines is the highest at 39.7 percent.

And special mention to Kuwait who takes the prize as the world’s worst with a staggering 67 percent of the population not getting enough exercise.

Globally, it’s a bit of a catastrophe. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be helped.

As I’ve mentioned “enough exercise” so many times in this article already, you’re probably wondering what exactly that means. We all want to be healthy, but it can be difficult to know exactly what it takes to get there.

After giving you the gruesome truth of health risks, I’ll now give you the handy tips on how to avoid them and tell you exactly how much exercise is “enough” exercise?


Screens are consuming so much of our time, we’re forgetting to exercise. Source: lukas_zb/Shutterstock

How much exercise do I need to stay healthy?

According to the WHO – and these are the guidelines used in the study – the recommended amount of physical activity for adults between the age of 18 and 65 is:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity in a week
  • Or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity in a week
  • Or an equivalent combination of both moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity
  • Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

But what, you ask, are examples of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercises?

Think of physical activity as a scale from one to 10. One being couch and Netflix; 10 being gunning it down the street in pursuit of the ice-cream truck.

Moderate-intensity registers between 3.0 and 5.9 on that scale. This includes activities like taking a brisk walk, hiking, skateboarding, doubles tennis and riding a bike on reasonably level ground.

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Vigorous-intensity is taking it up a notch to 6.0 or above on the physical activity scale.  In this category, you’ve got your jogging, fast swimming, martial arts, hill bike riding, and team sports like football, rugby, and hockey.

To get your bi-weekly fix of muscle strengthening exercises there’s the obvious – lifting weights, resistance training, push-ups, and the like. But also the not-so-obvious, like yoga and gardening. If you can break a sweat digging up your weeds, you’ll not only get your health fix but the added bonus of blooming petunias.

A healthy combination of these activities should help stave off the noncommunicable diseases mentioned above.


White House advisor and daughter of the president Ivanka Trump throws football as young participants look on during the White House Sports and Fitness Day event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 30, 2018. Source: Reuters

That’s the bare minimum, what if I actually want to get fit?

If you want to see some additional health benefits above just not getting sick, you need to pick it up a notch.

The WHO recommends adults extend the time to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise in a week, or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of the two.

As we all become more addicted to screens in their many forms, and the motivation to walk anywhere is diminished thanks to public transport and, well, laziness, it’s crucial to remember the importance of getting off our asses every once in a while.

Not to mention, it’s fun. So maybe it’s time to put down the phone, close the laptop, and venture outside for an explore.