What actually constitutes “moderate intensity exercise” ?

I had an email asking the following:

“What actually consitutes exercise as far as you are concerned? I feel the amount of movement I do must be sufficient, only thing I do not really do is stretch. I think a lot of my age group need to know does hoovering, weeding, ironing constitute exercise”

The writer of the email is 64, healthy and does a lot of gardening.

So, does she do enough?

Well the short answer is no. Thanks to inventions such as hoovers, modern irons, dishwashers and washing machines housework isn’t the heavy work that it used to be (the tedium hasn’t changed unfortunately). Whilst weeding is better for you than sitting down in front of the TV, it isn’t enough by itself.

The current recommendation is to do 150 minutes a week moderate intensity activity which you could break down into 30 minutes on 5 days of the week. That 30 minutes can be broken down into smaller 10 minute segments and this would still be beneficial.

The Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) report , “At Least five a week”, published in April 2004 calculated the prevalence of activity and inactivity amongst older adults.

Gender & Age 30+ minutes of moderate intensity 5+ times a week Less than 30 minutes moderate activity per week
Male 55-64 32% 44%
Male 65-74 17% 52%
Female 55-64 21% 42%
Female 64-74 12% 61%

So what constitutes “moderate intensity activity”?
This is any activity that is vigorous enough to produce sweating, increase breathing and elevate the heart rate but during which you can still maintain a conversation. If you want a more measured calculation you need to aim to stay within a target heart rate zone that is 55 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate

So what should I be doing?
Well this will vary by person – for some a brisk walk will be enough to elevate the heart rate (as a rule for walking, if you can’t have a conversation you are going to fast, if you can sing a song you are going to slow).  Other ways of raising your heart rate would be swimming or cycling. If you don’t feel like leaving the house then you could use your stairs, set your time for 10 minutes and walk up and down them or just use the bottom step to do step-ups. You could always add a couple of cans of beans and do bicep curls at the same time.

How to do a step up with bicep curl

  1. Stand facing the step with cans held in hands, palms facing forwards.
  2. Keeping the left foot on the floor, step your right foot up onto the step making sure as much of the foot is on the step as possible.
  3. Keeping the right foot on the step, bring your left foot up next to it. As you step up curl your arms up so your hands meet your shoulders. Make sure you keep your elbows and upper arms by your side.
  4. Step back down, leading again with the right leg and bringing your left foot down to join it on the floor.  At the same time lower your  hands back to your sides.
Start off doing a minute leading with your right leg and then a minute leading with your left leg and work up to 10 minutes (5 minutes each leg leading). Don’t forget the bicep curls are optional and you should go at your own pace. If necessary use the banisters for balance.

So what about stretching?
As people age they can experience a decrease in the range of movement in a joint which can lead to problems with both posture and functional ability. Stretching should be done following any exercise when the muscles are warm but there is no reason why you should not do some form of stretching everyday. A simple stretching programme covering all main muscle groups should not take more than 5 minutes a day to achieve.

Moderate intensity exercise and stretching, what else?
Well if possible you should also try to include some muscle endurance and strength training, also referred to as resistance training.  You should aim to do some resistance exercises 2-3 times a week, examples of which can be found in the following articles:

However please remember all these recommendations are goals, they are not starting points and some weeks you have more time to exercise than others. If you are currently sedentary then start off with a walk to the shops or round the park, take it at your own pace and enjoy it. If you can find something you enjoy doing that you are more likely to continue that activity. Gradually you can add in other elements, such as a stretch when you get back from your walk.

I hope you have found this article informative. If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over 50s. This will open a new browser window.

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