How Intensely Should You Work Out?

Photo credit: Michael L. Baird CC-BY-2.0

You probably know that you need to exercise on a regular basis, but maybe you aren’t really sure how hard you need to push yourself to achieve optimal results. Your workout intensity mainly depends on your current fitness level; what’s good for one person may be too difficult for someone else. You need to monitor your heart and your body to decide which level works best for you.

Exercise intensity is different for each person, so what seems like a really hard exercise routine to one person may feel fairly easy to someone in better physical condition. It’s important to pay close attention to how you feel while working out to determine the most appropriate intensity level. When you exercise at a moderate intensity, it should quicken your breathing but not leave you gasping for air. Even at a moderately intense level, you should still be able to carry on a conversation. If you can sing, you are not working hard enough. You should also expect a light sweat after exercising for about 10 to 15 minutes. Exercising at a vigorous intensity, however, should produce sweat within 5 minutes and expect your breathing to feel deep and rapid. You won’t be able to say more than a few words at a time at this level.

To get the best health benefits from exercise, it is generally recommended that adults engage in moderately intense exercise for roughly 150 minutes per week or a minimum of 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. You may want to break up your exercise routine into 30 minute sessions, 5 days a week to make it easier to stick with your routine, especially if you’re short on time. Alternating between hard-easy workout days is also a good idea to allow your muscles to recover and rebuild. You may increase the amount of exercise when you feel ready to do so. The suggestions above signify the least amount of exercise needed to experience positive health benefits.

Next, you need to figure out your target heart rate to more accurately measure your exercise intensity. Start by subtracting your current age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. This number basically tells you what your heart can safely handle during exercise. Your target heart rate should stay between about 50 to 70 percent of your heart’s maximum rate for moderately- intense exercise. For more vigorous activity, however, you should aim for a heart rate of 70 to 85 percent of the maximum. Once you have determined your target heart rate, you should measure your pulse during your workout to keep track of your heart rate.

If you’re just starting an exercise routine, remember to begin slowly and gradually work your way up to more intense exercise as your fitness level improves. You can start with swimming or brisk walking, then slowly build up to more vigorous exercise routines, such as aerobics or running. Also, don’t go beyond what your body can handle by pushing yourself too hard, too soon, which can lead to injury, burnout and other health issues. Listen to your body and stop exercising immediately if you’re in pain.

Exercise Is Good For Your Brain

Most everyone knows that exercise is good for your body and your cardiovascular system. Did you know that exercise is good for your brain, too? According to Professor Charles Hillman at the University of Illinois, 30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise can increase your mental cognition by up to 10 percent. Professor Hillman measured the cognitive performance of volunteers before and after exercising. The volunteers performed better on the tests following exercise. Exercise helps you to perform better at cognitive tasks, because you think more clearly and your mood is improved. The brain functions better after exercise because  acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, is released in the muscle tissues near nerve endings. Engage in some moderate exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 days a week to get a brain boost and a healthy body. 
Photo Credit: PD-USGOV
Jump rope is an exercise that you can do at home, at the gym, on your lunch break at work, or just about anywhere there is room to swing a rope. Jumping rope is an excellent moderately strenuous exercise that involves most all of the major muscle groups and helps to improve your coordination and balance. Athletes, especially boxers, jump rope to get a good aerobic exercise and improve their coordination and stamina. Jump rope for about 10 to 15 minutes or until you begin to sweat. Gradually increase your time spent jumping rope until you can jump steadily for 30 minutes. 

Aerobic dance exercise is another way to get a really good workout and boost your brain power. Dance aerobics classes are popular and often available at local gyms and fitness clubs. The advantages of signing up for an aerobic dance exercise class are detailed instructions and personal assistance from trained fitness professionals. The more experienced aerobic dancers can also do aerobic dance exercises at home by following instructions on an aerobic exercise DVD. Try to do at least 15 to 20 minutes of aerobic dance exercise every other day as part of your overall fitness program. 
Swimming is an aerobic exercise that is very low impact, but involves all the major muscle groups for an intense aerobic workout. Local gyms, fitness clubs and the YMCA usually have a swimming pool available for public use or a low membership fee. Swimming is one of the best ways to work your whole body with minimum risk of injury. Swim for 30 minutes, three times each week. 

For more information about exercising to improve cognitive function, see: 

ABC News Good Morning America, Study: Exercise Can Make You Smarter, Claire Shipman, et al. 2009
Scientific American, Fit Body, Fit Mind? Your Workout Makes You Smarter, Christopher Hertzog et al., 2009
The Franklin Institute, Brain Training Games, Renew-Exercise, 2004