January 26, 2012 in Features

Doctor K: Disease protection an exercise bonus

Anthony L. Komaroff Universal Uclick
 

DEAR DOCTOR K: I just turned 40, and I have finally accepted that I need to make regular exercise part of my life. I’m in pretty good physical shape, if slightly overweight. How much exercise do I need to stay healthy and maybe drop a few pounds?

DEAR READER: It’s easier than you might think. It also depends on your goals.

You’ve probably heard that regular exercise protects you against many of the major diseases. I’m talking about heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and even some cancers. When I tell my patients this, they often get a certain expression on their face that says, “Not this exercise-is-good-for-you stuff again.” In other words, I’m boring them.

In fact, regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing the most common kind of diabetes by 70 percent, for example. There is no medicine yet invented that can give you such protection. In other words, you can do more to protect yourself from diabetes than your doctor can do for you.

So the first important thing about regular exercise is how much good it can do for you. The second important thing is how little exercise you need to get powerful health benefits.

How much do you need to achieve your goals – “to stay healthy and maybe drop a few pounds”? I usually “prescribe” at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, or 15 minutes of intense exercise, at least five times a week.

What qualifies as “moderate exercise”? Your heart rate should be at 50 percent to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate the whole time you are exercising.

What’s your max? The standard formula is 220 beats per minute minus your age in years. So, a healthy 40-year-old like you would use 180 beats per minute as an initial heart-rate maximum. This formula doesn’t work if you’re on a medicine that slows your heart rate, like a beta blocker.

Another way of defining “moderate exercise” is walking briskly, at 3 to 4 miles per hour.

After talking with your doctor, start slowly and build up gradually. Above all, stick with it!


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