Research suggests that the minimum time women should commit to moderate intensity exercise is 150 minutes a week which breaks down to 30 minutes five times a week or 20 minutes everyday.

We live in a culture that views exercise as a chore and eating “healthy” as a burden. Meanwhile, taking these actions and transforming them into habits could be the difference between health and disease, life and death.

Research has shown that a balanced diet and exercise alone can act to slow the rate at which our bodies’ age, reduce our risk for over a dozen physical illnesses, including cancer, and even give our mental health a boost. This series will explore the benefits associated with healthy habits and give insight on what actions can be taken towards becoming a healthier version of you.

One of the areas that benefit greatly from improving your diet and increasing your physical activity is your heart health, an improvement thousands of Americans could use. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Likewise, about half of Americans have either high blood pressure, high cholesterol or are smokers, all of which are major risk factors contributing to the development of heart disease. Being overweight or obese is another major risk factor, not just for heart disease but for a multitude of other illnesses as well. Abdominal adiposity, which is just a fancy version of “stomach fat”, is one of the biggest risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

So why don’t we combat this? One problem is our society’s focus on treatment-based medicine meaning you go to the doctor once you have developed an issue rather than focusing on the prevention of issues. The United States spends more in healthcare costs than any other country in the world, averaging out to around $10,000 per person per year (According to OECD statistics); although many factors account for this, chronic diseases, like obesity, are huge contributors. Even with a family history of illness, many of these chronic diseases are preventable and would save us thousands of millions of dollars a year if we prioritized prevention.

How much exercise is enough to reap benefits?

Research suggests that the minimum time women should commit to moderate intensity exercise is 150 minutes a week which breaks down to 30 minutes five times a week or 20 minutes everyday. For more more vigorous physical activity, this time can be cut to only 75 minutes per week which breaks down to 15 minutes five days a week. This is less time than a typical episode of your favorite show and only 1-2% of our day which means it’s something we should all be able to fit into our week even if that means we have to wake up 30 minutes earlier or skip out on some Instagram time in order to do so.

Studies also show that the impact of the benefits you receive from changing your lifestyle tends to mirror the intensity and frequency of the work you’re putting in. This positive relationship means that increasing the intensity of your workouts could have more impact on your health than that of lower intensity workouts. However, do not get discouraged thinking that only high impact exercise will be beneficial; focus on staying conscious of what your body tells you is appropriate, don’t push yourself excessively. The idea is to keep a balance between being challenged and conquering new fitness goals while keeping within a safety zone where you will not cause unnecessary injuries to your body. The key is to be consistent, so try to get in at least 3 days of exercise per week regardless of intensity.

Cultivating this healthy habit will help you:

  • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce the risk of some cancers (including colon and breast cancers)
  • Reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (even if you have a family history)
  • Maintenance of bone density

Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence
Darren E.R. Warburton, Crystal Whitney Nicol, Shannon S.D. Bredin
CMAJ Mar 2006, 174 (6) 801-809; DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.051351