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Is 30 minutes of exercise a day enough?

The human body is complicated. For as much as we have learned about how it works and how the world around it affects it, we are still learning more every day. These new insights often create more questions, which can be exciting from a scientific perspective but frustrating from a patient perspective. How are you supposed to create health if recommendations are always changing?

One of my goals with these articles is to keep you up to date on new research so that you can understand how ongoing research might impact you. At the same time, I want you to see how these shifts in nuances still align with the core principles that drive the Habits of the Health. For example, a new study in the journal Circulation found significant evidence that the near-universal recommendation of getting 30 minutes of an exercise a day for heart health might be inaccurate.

In fact, exercising twice or four times as much could lead to even greater reductions in heart failure risk than if you only exercised for 30 minutes a day.

For some, these findings are cause for alarm. After all, the American Heart Health Association advocated for 30 minutes of exercise a day for some time. For the people that followed that advice, that effort could feel wasted. That’s not at all true, and that’s why headlines like “New study says 30 minutes of exercise a day is not enough. You should double or quadruple that.” can be problematic. Because that’s not what the study found at all.

The study found that more exercise was better, but 30 minutes of exercise a day still produced returns in terms of heart health. That is not 30 minutes wasted. That needs to be clear. In fact, even 15 minutes of exercise is not wasted effort. Every bit of exercise matters. It’s important that you don’t lose sight of that because while striving to exercise for 60 minutes a day is admirable, it can also seem far too daunting to be practical.

That’s why the Habits of Health are built on small, manageable changes. If someone hasn’t exercised for years and years, asking them to immediately jump to 60 minutes of exercise is not only impractical, it could be dangerous. If you go from doing no push-ups at all to doing one push-up a day, that’s exceptional! You might not be maximizing the total potential return you can get from exercising, but you are on your way. In my mind, something is always more remarkable than nothing. You can build a healthy future on top of a small starting effort.

If you are spending 30 minutes a day walking briskly and are supplementing that activity with NEAT activities like standing more than you sit and taking the stairs more often than you take the elevator, you are likely adding more minutes to that counter than you realize.

When you see a study—or more importantly, an article about a study—take what you read with a grain of salt, and don’t let an extreme headline undermine the progress you have already made. The real truth is likely more moderate, and that’s where the Habits of Health are rooted—in moderation, in the accumulation of small daily choices, not big extreme ones. Will some of the details change about Optimal Health? Sure. We recently learned that 7-8 hours of sleep a day is essential for everyone where as we used to think men and women needed different amounts. You know what didn’t change? The importance of sleep and the returns you get from working to improve your sleep.

The Optimal Health Community is here to help you navigate these waters. Stick to your habits, and continue to improve each day, little by little. Small improvements matter in a big way, and they always will.

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