I’ve always struggled to get the right amount of exercise.

I used to blame much of my difficulty on having a job. My experience over the past three years makes it clear that it wasn’t so simple. (It wasn’t completely wrong. Especially when the days get short—when I would be going to the office before sunrise and returning home only after the sun had set—it was very difficult to get enough exercise. That is much improved.)

There have been periods I have managed to get enough exercise. Three different summers I managed to do so by organizing my exercise around training for a future event (twice a race, once a century ride), but those efforts never carried over into the following winter. More successful have been the times when I integrated my exercise into my day’s activities, such as by walking to school or by bicycling to work.

The first time I was running seriously, I kept a training log. At the peak in late summer I was spending just over 100 minutes per day exercising. (That was averaging a 5-hour weekend bike ride in with shorter weekday bike rides, almost daily runs, and two or three sessions of lifting per week.)

The problem was that 100 minutes per day turned out to be more than was sustainable if I was also going to hold down a job, keep up with household tasks, and have a life. Even now that I’m not trying to hold down a regular job, I’ve found it impossible to put 100 minutes per day into exercise.

That’s all prelude to mentioning the extensive coverage in the news lately on a recent study on physical activity and weight gain prevention. For people of normal weight, it seems that one hour per day of exercise was sufficient to prevent weight gain. People who got less exercise gained weight. (The details were complicated. People who were already overweight didn’t seem to benefit from exercise.)

Still, even with the complex result, it seems like a target of 60 minutes per day of exercise is a reasonable one. It seems to be enough to maintain a healthy weight. (That is, if you can’t sustain a healthy weight when you’re getting that much exercise, the solution is not likely to be more exercise.) And it’s well under the 100 minutes that I found unsustainable.

The first news story I saw on the study had a great line, to the effect that if an hour a day seems like too much time to spend exercising, think instead that 23 hours a day is too much time to spend being sedentary.

So, that’s going to be my goal: about an hour a day of exercise.

I’ve already got two days a week covered—on Mondays and Thursdays Jackie and I have a well-established habit of doing about 30 minutes of lifting plus 60 minutes of Taiji. If I aim to spend an hour a day on the other five days of the week walking, I can hit my target even if I miss an occasional day due to bad weather or schedule problems.

And I’ve already started. Thursday I did my lifting and Taiji. Yesterday I walked with Jackie for an hour just after lunch. Today I walked into campus for the Esperanto group meeting.

One great thing about this new exercise plan is that I don’t need to work up to it—I’m already in good enough shape to walk for an hour every day. I just need to do it.

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2 thoughts on “How much exercise?

  1. Speaking as a long-time runner, a veteran of many marathons and ultramarathons, currently preparing for my ninth 72-hour race, I’ll verify that persons to whom an exercise program is most successful are not those who treat it as a necessary and mildly disagreeable obligation that has to somehow be worked in with everything else, in order to get out of the way and thereafter carry on with “real” life, but those for whom exercise is one of life’s driving passions, in the same way that music, art, literature, and science (as examples) are to so many of us. I myself am such a person. When someone learns to love some particular pursuit, he will find a way to do it regularly.

  2. I go back and forth. Several times I’ve spent months during which I’ve found a way to fit in many hours of exercise a week. But then it gets cold (and, worse, dark—and worse yet, slippery) and I find it easier to just stay home and read a book. And, as I said, when I am exercising a lot I find it easy to let the time spent exercising get out of control to the upside—I exercise so much that it becomes hard to fit in all the necessary household tasks.

    So, I was looking for some sort of target. I think an hour a day will work fine. If I’m getting less than that, I need to do more. If I find that I’m getting more than that, I’ll probably benefit from finding a way to be more efficient—cut back some junk miles in favor of a longer endurance run or some faster speedwork.

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