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Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits

separator Pretty much everybody knows that exercise is one of the components of a heart healthy lifestyle. But it’s not always easy to know whether you’re doing enough. Is the walk you take every evening after work making your heart work enough? What about the quick workout at the gym you do several times a week?

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that people get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. You don’t have to do it all at once. It’s okay to break it up into increments of 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

There are different ways to measure the intensity of your exercise. Some are simple, others are more complex.

For example, there’s the “talk test,” which is a simple measurement. Using this method, if you’re exercising at a light intensity, you should be able to sing. At a moderate rate, you should be able to talk comfortably while engaging in the activity. If you feel too out of breath to talk while you’re exercising, that activity would be considered vigorous.

A more detailed way to assess your exercise level is to measure “metabolic equivalents,” or METs. An MET is a unit that estimates the amount of oxygen your body uses when you exercise.

It takes about one MET to sit quietly, read, talk on the telephone, etc. As you increase your activity level, your MET rises as well. In general, activities that use 3 to 6 METS would be considered moderate-intensity. This requires 3 to 6 times the amount of energy you expend while sitting quietly. An activity that requires 6 METs or more would be considered vigorous.

Most up-to-date gym machines have MET indicators on them. If you work out at a gym, take a look next time to see whether there’s one on the equipment you use.

Intensity level changes with age
The amount of METs you use when you exercise changes as you get older. For example, activities that had an MET of, say, 3 when you were 40 may have an MET of 5 now.

Sample activities and their METs
Activities that would use 3 to 6 METs, indicating moderate activity, include:

  • Walking at a moderate or brisk pace, at 3 to 4.5 mile per hour
  • Cycling at about 5 to 9 miles per hour, on a relatively flat surface
  • Weight training and body building using free weights
  • Inline skating and roller skating at a leisurely pace
  • Coaching a sport—for children or adults
  • Dancing at a relaxed pace
  • Swimming for recreation
  • Hunting
  • Light gardening and yard work—raking, trimming, bagging leaves, etc.
  • Tennis—doubles

Activities that would use 6 METs or more include:

  • Jogging or running
  • Wheeling your wheelchair
  • Walking briskly up a hill
  • Backpacking
  • Bicycling more than 10 miles per hour or up a steep hill
  • Karate, judo, tae kwon do
  • Jumping rope
  • Circuit weight training
  • Professional, energetic dancing
  • Tennis—singles
  • Heavy gardening—quick, heavy shoveling; swinging an ax

What should your goal be?
The best thing to do is talk with your doctor to figure out how intense your exercise should be.

As we said above, the Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. But research also indicates that it’s a good idea to push yourself sometimes to use more METs than would be considered moderate. Ratchet your workout up a little; make yourself work harder. You don’t have to exercise at an intense level for your whole workout, but sustaining a higher intensity for a little bit of time is a good way to go.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The New England Journal of Medicine, 4 August 2005; Harvard School of Public Health; U.S. Department of health and Human Services.
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