Are you a sedentary woman between the ages of 60 and 74? If not, then the research recently reported in the New York Times does not exactly apply to you. The article, Why Four Workouts a Week May Be Better Than Six, boasts a large picture of a young woman holding a dumbbell – in the online version this is all you see before you scroll down to begin reading. Let us assume that the girl in the picture is 30. Does a 30-year-old female have the same physical needs as a 60-year-old female? Maybe.
And honestly, this research is telling us something that fitness professional already know (or should know). Lifestyle and general health exercise guidelines recommend exercising 4-5 days a week.
Getting the right dose of exercise
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is dedicated to researching (including meta-analyses) human needs for exercise and the benefits associated with exercise. The ACSM designates experts to develop annual position statements – incorporating ALL research into a concise recommendation. These statements are free and available to the public on www.acsm.org. You will notice that Apparently Healthy Adults and Older Adults have different statements and recommendations. This is because of the obvious differences in needs and concerns for contraindications (older adults also have different dietary needs, requiring far fewer calories with age). Further, there is a position specific to weight loss and prevention of regain. Another specific to resistance training. And more.
If you currently work with a fitness professional, ask him/her if they have read these. Seriously! If he/she has not, you may want to consider spending your money more wisely, for example find yourself a new, qualified fitness professional. While these documents are somewhat dense in information, a fitness professional should not have issues reading and applying the recommendations. And it is my opinion that not reading these documents and applying the recommendations to the needs of your clients is professional negligence.
Apparently healthy adults
According to the ACSM, an apparently healthy adult (i.e., asymptomatic) is encouraged to engage in strength or resistance training 2-3 times a week and cardiovascular/aerobic training 2 times a week. Further, a healthy adult should set a goal of 150 total minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. More activity may be required for significant weight loss goals (see the weight loss position statement). More activity may also be required to achieve certain fitness and athletic improvements. NOTE: These recommendations do not include 6 days a week, as the research for the older adults looked at, but to state 4-5 days a week. Interesting? Sure reads to me like the research is adding validity to what we professionals already know!
Increasing physical activity
Ideally, in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we should not have to think so hard about it – “did I get all my exercise in this week?” In the beginning, maybe. But is is important that you work on comfortable increases in activity (i.e., not forced activity). Research shows that doing too much too soon will lead to burnout more quickly. This is often because we do not see the anticipated – often unrealistic – results, therefore the costs do not outweigh the benefits and we quit.
Popular media distorts research and cherry picks information to fit their needs and make it appealing to the audience. While the article does state that the research was performed in older women, they use the image of a younger woman and the author never clarifies that the recommendations based on this research is truly limited to a subpopulation – older, otherwise sedentary women. (Journalistic ethics frustrate me to no end!)
Also, you cannot rely solely one piece of research. You may not know who funded it, what biases exist, what the limitations were, etc. And the ACSM has done the meta-analyses for us in many instances. NOTE: ACSM is just one example of a reputable agency that has done this.
Lastly, I do not expect YOU to read all the position statements, but fitness professionals should. If you are dedicated to developing your own fitness program, GO FOR IT! Read it and apply it. Is it too much information for you to digest? Many fitness professionals will sell you a program to follow (I know I do) and it is much more cost efficient than personal training.
My friends are beginning to instigate me by sending me articles (like this one) that they know will aggravate me! You can blame them for feeding my soap box!