Active Living Strategies

GOYAASMA - Get off your ass and start moving around

How Much Activity is Enough?

With over 100 million Americans complaining about "no time for exercise", one of the key issues deserving attention is "how much time does it really take?" The answer to this question became much clearer after Dr. Ralph Paffenbarger and his Stanford University colleagues examined the health histories and activity levels of some 17,000 Harvard graduates in what is now called the Harvard Alumni Study. This landmark research study eventually predicted one's chance of dying as a function of that person's state of physical activity.

Important conclusions from the Harvard Alumni Study

  1. Note how fast the death rate drops for doing just 1 mile per day of walking
  2. Note how the death rate continues to drop as one increases to 2 and then to 3 miles per day of walking
  3. After 3 miles a day, the death rate starts to level out as the law of diminishing returns starts to take over
  4. Summary:
    -  1 mile per day (700 Calories of weekly accumulated physical activity) is good;
    -  2 miles per day (1400 Calories of weekly accumulated physical activity) is better;
    -  3 miles per day (2100 Calories of weekly accumulated physical activity) is better yet.
    -  After 3 miles per day, the long-term health benefits improve somewhat, but not dramatically.
  5. Bottom line conclusion: For America's 180 million lounge lizards, Just Do Something - Anything... even adding 15 extra minutes a day of GOYAASMA to your life will significantly improve your health; 30 minutes a day of accumulated physical activity (which is what the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity recommends) will help you even more. By the way, the word "accumulated" means that you can break your activities into segments and still receive an accumulated benefit. For example, 10 minutes in the a.m. plus 10 minutes at lunch plus 10 minutes in the p.m. is worth 30 minutes of accumulated activity.
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Setting Your Intensity Level

Some people like to push it with high-target heart rates; others like to chill at the supermarket stroll in low gear. We call the latter "low-intensity exercises." Many enjoy the middle gear (not too fast; not too slow) which provides a safe, comfortable, no-pain experience. Regarding these three gears - high, middle and low - here's what you need to know:

  1. The high gear (intense, vigorous exercise) produces the best cardiovascular conditioning effect, strengthening the heart muscle while improving aerobic endurance, collateral circulation (of blood flow to the heart muscle) and cardiorespiratory function. In the high gear, you also burn fuel at a high rate - typically 7 to 10 Calories per minute - while working out at 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate;
  2. The middle gear (moderate intensity exercise at 60% to 65% of your maximum heart rate) will enable you to stay out there longer without muscle fatigue. Since the name of the game in weight loss is not how fast you go but rather how much distance you cover, working out in middle gear will ultimately help you burn more calories for better weight loss (fat loss) results. However, you do need to put in significantly more time for this caloric expenditure to occur;
  3. The low gear (low-intensity exercise at 45% to 55% of your maximum heart rate) used to be frowned upon as a waste of time. However, today, it gets more respect and is definitely worthy of health benefits. Frankly, if more sedentary Americans - and seniors in particular - just got off the couch and started walking in low gear, they would see immediate signs of health enhancement. Needless to say, to get the same health benefits as exercising in the high or middle gears, one needs to put in significantly more time in the low gear to receive the equivalent benefits;
  4. Mixing it up. To keep life interesting and to prevent exercise burnout, consider varying your workouts from day to day such that, say, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday you push a bit harder in the high gear for a better cardiovascular workout; then, on the in-between days, say Tuesday and Thursday, you would perform long, slow distance (LSD) workouts. Call Tuesday and Thursday your fat-burning days, during which you would significantly increase your distance and time but at a comfortable enough pace in the middle gear so as to avoid fatigue, soreness, and muscle tightness. Finally, come the weekend, you could settle back in the low gear with some fun recreational activities (i.e., golf, gardening, yard work, and some stretching activities). This cross-training strategy will give you needed recovery time, more variety and a broader overall conditioning effect.

Note: A typical high-gear cardiovascular workout might last 20 to 25 minutes (including a short warm-up and cool-down), while a typical middle-gear, fat-burning/weight loss workout might last 45 to 60 minutes.


Besides the cardiovascular and weight loss workouts described above, we should all be doing a series of stretching and strengthening activities on a consistent, regular basis to round out our conditioning program. The safest way to stretch is statically (holding a comfortable position for a 20- to 30-second time span without herky-jerky ballistic bouncing). Static stretching should be done on a daily basis, before or after workouts and whenever you feel tight. Strengthening exercises require one to apply muscle force against some form of resistance, such as in lifting free weights, lifting your own body against gravity (e.g., sit-ups and push-ups), using weight-training machines, or simply using resistance tubing. Strengthening exercises can be performed 2 to 3 times per week, with at least one day of rest between muscle strengthening workouts.

To get started with a simple yet effective stretching/strengthening program, you may want to examine the Stretch for Strength Program described on the web site; click here for details.


Low intensity physical activities, such as walking and gardening, do the body little good.
These low-intensity activities may be the smartest in the long haul because they use muscles efficiently yet with little risk of injury, plus they can be done over your entire life span.
Short bouts of activities are worthless. You need to exercise at least 30 straight minutes to burn fat.
This philosophy is totally absurd and is one of the greatest reasons why millions of Americans continue to sit on the couch. Even 5-minute walks around the office building at lunch are helpful, and as the research shows, you can take credit for all of the little bouts of exercise you perform in a day's time. However, please do not count one minute walks to the bathroom and to the refrigerator in your cumulative total.
Training with weights builds big, bulky muscles.
Training with weights will improve one's muscle mass, metabolism, balance, mobility, posture, and musculoskeletal structure. If anything, you will develop a leaner, firmer body - not a body builder's physique.
If you don't feel sore after a workout, you probably need to work out harder.
The perfect workout is the one you never feel the next day. The old adage "No Pain, No Gain" is now replaced by the wiser one: "No Pain, All Gain."
As you age, your metabolism slows down and ultimately you will gain weight.
Not necessarily true. If you maintain good muscle mass by doing strengthening activities, and you remain active, both your metabolism and your weight can remain relatively stable through life. If you see a decline in this area, you can also cut back slightly on your meal portion sizes to offset gradual metabolic declines.
Exercise by itself is a poor way to burn off excess calories and lose weight.
Even moderate intensity activities in the "middle gear" will increase your resting metabolism from 1 Calorie per minute to 5 Calories per minute. This is a huge increase, which could help you burn off an extra 250 Calories per day of body fat per 60-minute workout. This does not even take into account the extra credit you receive for your elevated metabolic rate following a bout of exercise.
If you're thin and don't have a weight problem, you really don't need to worry about physical activity.
This is totally false security. Research shows that there are many benefits for being physically active, the most important of which is NOT losing weight. This research shows that it's extremely important to be active, regardless of your weight, and that thin, inactive people have a higher mortality rate than consistently active yet moderately overweight people. Bottom line: Physical activity should NOT be associated primarily with weight management, but with healthy lifestyle.
Inactive, obese children can always burn off their "baby fat" later in life.
While this may be true in some instances, data from the Framingham Heart Study shows that "less active children tend to retain their baby fat, and continue to gain weight on into adulthood. Also, children with the least active parents are most likely to grow up as sedentary individuals with high rates of heart disease."



There are many ways to evaluate the overall quality of any physical activity. The problem is many of us become emotionally subjective in this evaluation. To help you be a little bit more objective, we ask you to evaluate your favorite physical activities based on five independent variables, as described below. Simply assign a value from 0 (lowest rating) to 10 (highest rating) for each of these variables; then sum up all five ratings to arrive at an overall composite score reflecting the quality of your physical activity.

Do you really love doing this activity?
How easy, affordable and convenient is your activity?
What does this activity do for you emotionally,
physically, socially, intellectually, spiritually?
How safe is your activity?
Can you be doing this activity when you are 70? 80? 90?
Your total score:
Compare your total score with these equivalencies:
Fantastic - a real keeper 45 to 50
Excellent - keep it up 40 to 44
Good - with room for improvement 30 to 39
Start looking for a new activity 29 or less


Penny, the walking golden retriever,
displays her Walk the Four Seasons
Log Book with master Gary Miller of
Canton, CT. Gary and Penny are
currently logging approx. 20 miles
of walking per week.

One of the most underrated and underutilized habits is keeping a physical activity journal. If more of us would just take 30 seconds a day to record our physical activities in a small activity journal, we would achieve such a greater feeling of pride and accomplishment, and as a result our consistency level would improve dramatically.

Shown is one resource currently used by tens of thousands of people to record their physical activities. For more information on such resources, click here.


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