Is it just us or is anyone else bombarded with articles and posts about exactly how much exercise is enough? Has it ever occurred to you that this holy grail of wisdom doesn’t actually exist? Yes, you have probably heard the general recommendation to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, but how do we apply this to our real lives as mothers, parents, and caregivers? First, let’s take a closer look at the evidence-based guidelines.
Where does the 150 minutes per week recommendation come from?
The most-recent Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are based on a systematic review of the science supporting physical activity and health. Evidence that was graded as strong or moderate was used to develop key guidelines. Here’s a summary from the American Heart Association of the recommendations for adults:
- Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.
- For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 min (2 hours and 30 min) to 300 min (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 min (1 hour and 15 min) to 150 min (2 hours and 30 min) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
- Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 min (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
- Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity, and involve all major muscle groups at least 2 days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
So let’s break this down. 150 minutes is the minimum recommendation, but benefits from exercise can still be achieved below 150 minutes. And, doing additional exercise beyond 300 minutes per week provides additional benefits. If you’re doing vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, the minimum requirements are 75 minutes per week (yes, that’s HALF of the recommendation for moderate intensity), and if you are doing a mix of moderate and vigorous, you can shoot for somewhere in between. Beyond this, focusing on strengthening our muscles offers additional benefits.
What are examples of moderate- vs. vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise?
Some examples of moderate intensity aerobic exercise are brisk walking, mopping, carrying groceries up the stairs, dancing, gardening, and leisurely cycling. Vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise includes things like running, hiking, fast cycling, cross country skiing, active sports like soccer and basketball, and one of our favorites: High Intensity Interval training (HIIT).
We love HIIT workouts because they provide at least the same benefits as moderate-to-vigorous continuous training, if not more, in a shorter amount of time! And let’s face it—for parents and caregivers especially, sometimes our exercise window is a short nap time, rushed between meetings, or during an episode of Daniel Tiger. HIIT can also contribute to muscle strengthening and increased muscle mass, and it has been shown to be more-enjoyable in some studies. Truthfully, there is SO much research now behind HIIT that it’s impossible to try to summarize it in a meaningful way. So, more-generically, here’s a small sampling of things that HIIT can improve:
- Increase metabolic rate
- May improve muscle mass
- Improve oxygen consumption
- Reduce heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduce blood sugar
- Improve aerobic and anaerobic performance
See this article for more detail on all of these things, plus links to the research studies behind these claims. **Content warning—this article contains a fair amount of talk of weight loss and burning calories, and most of the primary studies also include discussion of weight/obesity.
OK, But How Much Exercise is “Enough” for ME?
One way to think about your individual exercise needs is using the concept of Minimum Effective Dose. It’s a pretty simple concept, but not one we tend to apply to exercise: just because some is good doesn’t always mean more is better. For example, water boils at 212°F. Increasing the heat won’t make it ‘more boiled,’ it will just consume more energy and resources that could be used for something else. So how would that waste of energy look for our health? Over-exercising often looks like poor recovery from workouts, frequent exhaustion and soreness, irritability, headaches, extreme hunger, difficulty concentrating, and generally not enjoying the activity!
How Do I Know Which “Dose” I Need?
Unlike boiling water, our bodies don’t have a universal measure of the ‘correct’ dose—it will be different for each of us. We need to experiment, but the idea is to find that sweet spot where the benefits are high. This means generally enjoying the activity, plus feeling physically and mentally well after exercise. We don’t want to cause negative repercussions or use more time, energy, and resources than necessary. This is especially crucial for moms and parents, who may already be depleted from caretaking and sleep deprivation.
So if you are a person who is accustomed to a LOT of time spent exercising, dragging yourself through your workouts and still not feeling great—you may actually find that you are overshooting your Minimum Effective Dose. In this case, more rest and recovery may be what you need to help you progress toward your fitness goals. In fact, there is mounting evidence that even smaller amounts of exercise offer huge benefits, and that multiple, shorter bouts of physical activity are just as effective as longer, continuous sessions. It’s also important to note that the way we feel about the exercise we do matters, and embracing an “everything counts” approach over an “all or nothing” mentality will go a long way towards developing a consistent, sustainable, and enjoyable exercise habit.
How Does MommaStrong Help?
Although everyone takes their own path through MommaStrong, our Daily workouts (D15s) are technically 15-minute, high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Depending on the impact level and exertion you choose, they can be moderate- to vigorous-intensity levels of exercise. Doing a D15 everyday is 105 minutes, which according to the guidelines is absolutely enough time spent doing vigorous exercise each week. If you are doing these at a more moderate intensity, remember—everything counts when it comes to movement, so doing MommaStrong plus any other activity throughout the week can get you there.
MommaStrong D15s are also full body, muscle-strengthening workouts using both bodyweight resistance and simple DIY equipment you already have at home. And BONUS: our Loaded series (included with your membership!) is a great introduction to using resistance equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, and resistance bands, with online access to safe and effective training sessions.
Finally, MommaStrong knows that YOU are the expert of your body and your unique needs. We encourage a compassionate allyship with your body that can help you understand how to respond to your body’s changing needs from day to day. This will help you meet the end goal of building a consistent habit of showing up for yourself, on your terms.