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Get Physical

Physical activity helps control weight, builds lean muscle, reduces fat, promotes strong bone, muscle and joint development, and decreases the risk of obesity.

Physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Combined with healthy eating, it can help prevent a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke, which are the three leading causes of death. Physical activity helps control weight, builds lean muscle, reduces fat, promotes strong bone, muscle and joint development, and decreases the risk of obesity.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) physical activity guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. You don't have to do it all at once; you can spread this activity out over easy 30-minute increments, five days a week. Or you can choose from many activities and do them in bouts of 10 minutes. The HHS also advises doing muscle-strengthening exercises 2 or more days a week.

Do what you love

The best exercise is one that you will actually do. So find a form of physical activity that you enjoy— walking, biking, gardening, swimming, as long as it that really gets you moving—and find time to do it 5 or more days a week. If it's something you love to do, you'll be much more motivated to do it regularly.

People have different likes and dislikes. This is just as true for physical activity as anything else. Here are some ideas for getting more physically active:

  • Take a dance or aerobic exercise class to get your body moving and your heart pumping
  • Start a walking club in your neighborhood
  • Take public transportation and walk from the station or the bus stop to your office
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator
  • Ride your bike or walk to do errands, like light grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, or picking up dry cleaning
  • Go for a hike with friends and family
  • Join a local intramural team that plays your favorite sport
  • Go swimming
  • Play with your kids or your grandkids

Set realistic short- and long-term goals

You can also motivate yourself by setting short- and long-term goals. Break down your fitness goals into graduated steps that will logically take you from your short-term goals to the long –term ones. For example:

  • I will check with my doctor to see if there are any restrictions or cautions I should be aware of, before I start my new activities.
  • I will begin with 2 sessions of brisk walking for at least 10 minutes (for a total of at least 20 minutes each day) for the first two weeks.
  • I will walk briskly for 30 minutes every morning and do 15 minutes of strength training every other day for the next three weeks.
  • I will jog or cycle for 30 minutes every morning and add 10 more minutes to my strength training routine.

Track your progress

Having a clear picture of the advances you're making can help keep you motivated to stay with your program and meet your goals. Forms like those in the resources can help you get a better picture of what activities might be working well for you and which ones you find more challenging. By setting and meeting short-term goals, you can claim many "little victories" that spur you on to reaching your ultimate goal. Remember to celebrate these victories.

Way to go!

Giving yourself a simple reward when you reach you short- or long-term goals can be highly motivating. It reinforces the good work that you're doing and inspires you to do more.

Use the buddy system

Whatever physical activity you choose to engage in can become more enjoyable when a friend or two is doing it alongside you. Having a friend or a group involved helps keep you motivated, and that can give you a boost whenever you're lagging. Knowing that friends are depending on you to meet them for your activity is just the thing to help get you out of the house and keep you going.

Saving time

When you're back to a higher level of fitness, you can save time by choosing vigorous physical activities along with your moderate physical activities. You can get similar benefits in less time. Check out the sidebar on moderate vs. vigorous activiites for more ideas.

Physical Activity Calculator

To calculate your activity level, enter the number of minutes a week you engage in vigorous and moderate activities and click the calculate PAI button.

How many minutes of vigorous activity* do you engage in per week?

How many minutes of moderate activity* you engage in per week?

Understanding Your Results

MET Minutes Impact
Below 500 We now know that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits.
500-1,000 These numbers reflect the amount of physical activity necessary to achieve significant health benefits.
More than 1,000 This level of activity is great especially if significant weight loss is your primary goal

All recommended activity levels are based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans report.

*Moderate vs. Vigorous Activity

Moderate Activities
(I can talk while I do them, but I can't sing.)
Vigorous Activities
(I can only say a few words without stopping to catch my breath.)
  • Walking briskly
  • Ballroom and line dancing
  • Biking on level ground or with few hills
  • Canoeing
  • General gardening (raking, trimming shrubs)
  • Sports where you catch and throw (baseball, softball, volleyball)
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Using a manual wheelchair
  • Water aerobics
  • Aerobic dance
  • Biking faster than 10 miles per hour
  • Fast dancing
  • Heavy gardening (digging, hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill
  • Jumping rope
  • Martial arts (such as karate)
  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Sports with a lot of running (basketball, hockey, soccer)
  • Swimming fast or swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)