How To Meet Your Physical Activity Goals

March 25, 2021
Start small with physical activity goals, like walking

Most people know the importance of exercising. Many recognize that they are probably not exercising enough. MUSC Health Primary Care providers often talk with patients about their physical activity levels. Dr. Michelle Cunningham answers some of our most common exercise questions and shares her tips for how patients can find the best ways to increase their physical activity effectively!

"I often find myself counseling patients on the importance of building healthy habits slowly. Starting slow increases patients' chances of making this a consistent part of their lives."
- Dr. Cunningham

What are the major benefits of physical activity?

  • Increase overall energy and feeling of well-being - yes, the "runners' high" is a real thing!
  • Decrease symptoms of depression
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Help treat - and prevent - diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Decrease cognitive decline
  • Reduce the risk of falls

How often should we exercise? How much exercise do we need?

Most people get the maximum benefit from 150-300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate aerobic exercise per week, including brisk walking, water aerobics, and ballroom dancing. Vigorous aerobic exercise gives people the best benefit at 75-150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) per week, including jogging or running, lap swimming, and heavy yard work. A variety of physical activities can be effective, and they don't all have to be vigorous or strenuous. Many people find it more interesting and easier to meet goals if they do different exercises throughout the week.

How do I get started with physical activity/exercise?

Start small! Starting any healthy habit is tough, and setting an unachievable goal can decrease your likelihood of success. If you're starting from nothing, Dr. Cunningham recommends setting one small but achievable goal to start. For example, commit to 10 minutes of exercise 2-3 days a week. It doesn't sound like much, but this is all about building healthy habits. Once you consistently meet that goal for 3 or 4 weeks, add another day - 10 minutes 3-4 days a week. Next, add on extra time - 15 minutes 3-4 days a week. And so on. By setting these small, incremental goals, you increase your likelihood of success because you're building a good, healthy habit.

What kinds of exercises are best?

The best exercises are the ones that you enjoy and can consistently achieve. You don't have to be a runner or belong to a gym to get exercise benefits. There are many excellent fitness videos on websites like YouTube - everything from aerobics to weights to yoga, and many of these require little to no equipment, which makes them perfect for at-home workouts.

Best exercises for returning from an injury?

If you have any medical concerns or injuries, ask your doctor for recommended exercises. The most common complaints we see are about back pain and arthritis:

  • Exercises for back pain: Yoga has been shown to help decrease back pain. There are lots of great "back pain yoga" videos on YouTube.
  • Exercises for joint pain/arthritis: Swimming, water aerobics, water jogging, etc. are excellent low-impact exercises for people who have painful joints or arthritis and want to get a full-body workout with less pain

What types of exercise can help me lose weight?

Weight loss is most effective with a combination of increased physical activity and a healthier diet. Physical activity alone can only decrease weight to a small extent. An overall healthier lifestyle, which includes exercise, is the best way to lose weight.

Exercising with a mask on - is it safe?

Yes. Studies show that there is little to no decrease in performance while exercising with a mask. The most comfortable would be a moisture-wicking cloth material, no more than two layers thick.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Cunningham

Dr. Michelle Cunningham is accepting new patients at our West Ashley Primary Care office. Dr. Cunningham sees patients of all ages. She is passionate about finding the balance between compassionate, comprehensive medical care and patient-centered goals. If you want to talk about your physical activity or any other aspect of your wellness journey, schedule an appointment with Dr. Cunningham today by calling 843-876-3151.