How Much Exercise Do We Really Need to Fight Disease & Manage Stress?
by Andrew Wolf, M.S. ED.
When you think about exercise in regard to disease prevention it is important to keep in perspective the simplicity of working out. If you think about it, all exercise can be broken down into how many calories you burn. It is important to think of exercise this way because when you want to talk about “how much exercise” you are really asking “how many calories?” Keeping this point in mind, I always try to get my clients to think about exercise accumulation.
The Unimportance of Today vs. The Importance of This Week
Think of exercise as an accumulation of calorie burning that occurs over seven days, not whether or not you spent 30-45 minutes on the treadmill today. Doing three bouts of exercise that are 60 minutes long or doing 18 bouts of exercise that are 10 minutes long is the same thing when it comes to burning calories and preventing disease. Both approaches have you doing 180 minutes of exercise per week, so in the end they are equal.
Now where does the calories/disease axis come in? Well, when it comes to preventing coronary artery disease and diabetes, I am usually trying to get my clients to get as close to burning about 2,000 calories per week as they can. This can be a pretty tall order so I try to make this a long-term goal, not something that you throw yourself into right away. This is also why I try to get my clients to think about how they are doing their cardiovascular exercise.
The bottom line is simply this: You get more or less fit every three weeks. If you relax for three weeks, you get less fit and burn fewer calories when you work out. But, if you challenge yourself for three weeks, you get more fit and you burn more calories. The good news is the more fit you get, the less time it takes to burn the calories.
Lowering Blood Pressure
When it comes to making a dent in blood pressure I am not so stringent. I am trying to get most of my clients to burn 1,000-plus calories per week with exercise. The problem with hypertension is that your blood pressure responds to the exercise you have done in the last two to three days. This creates a situation where exercise should be done on as many days as possible in order to manage this silent killer.
Your heart is covered in these little stress receptors called Beta receptors. The more Beta receptors you have the less stressed you have to be before your heart reacts. Increased fitness is accompanied by a reduced number of Beta receptors on the heart. In essence you become thicker skinned and harder to physically fluster the more fit you are.
Cut Calories with Cardio
In regard to what kind of exercise is best, I would probably suggest that most of it be cardiovascular exercise, simply because it burns more calories per minute than pumping iron. This does not address the issues of bone density, posture, and strength but that is another topic for another day. When I am in the weight room lifting I usually burn anywhere from 3.5-5 calories per minute, so 45 minutes of lifting usually yields 191 calories burned. If you catch me riding my bike at home at 145 beats per minute, I am usually burning about 14-16 calories per minute so 45 minutes gives me 675 calories.
What does it take to burn 100, 1,000, or 2,000 calories per week? Bottom line is that most people burn about 100 calories per mile of walking or running regardless of speed. Now you can think about exercise and burning calories in terms of time spent. When you do that you will see why, when I am in consults here at Miraval, I am always trying to get my clients fitter. The fitter you are, the less time it takes to prevent disease!
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Earning his Master’s Degree at the Human Performance Lab UT Austin, Andrew Wolf specializes in exercise performance enhancement as well as diabetes treatment and prevention through enhanced metabolic function. Wolf’s expertise can help guests gain a deeper understanding on how their fitness levels may be impeding or aiding in the prevention of some of today’s most common and preventable diseases.