Portrait of Dr. Emily Heller
Dr. Emily Heller

Popular culture bombards us with messages regarding the benefits of regular exercise. It is widely known that physical activity helps to facilitate weight loss, improves sleep, and reduces the risk of some diseases including: cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Yet, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), only 20% of adults meet both cardio and strength training guidelines – which include cardiovascular activity 3-5 days a week and strength training 2-3 times a week, totaling 150 minutes weekly.

In 2007, the ACSM and the American Medical Association (AMA) launched a co-initiative, Exercise Is Medicine (EIM). Through this initiative, physical activity is to be included in medical treatment and patient care for all individuals. If there was a pill that conferred all of the benefits of regular exercise, physicians and insurance companies would figure out a way to make sure every individual had access to this “miracle drug.” Since there is not, initiatives such as EIM further reiterates the importance of incorporating physical activity in one’s life.

Here are a few guidelines that can help in thinking about an exercise program:

Cardiovascular Exercise

The current ACSM exercise guidelines recommend 20-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise performed at least three days a week. This can be accumulated in one continuous exercise session or in bouts of ten minutes throughout the day. Cardiovascular exercise can be achieved through any activity that increases one’s breathing and heart rate. Some examples are walking, cycling, swimming and yard work.

Strength Training

Guidelines include lifting weights 2-3 days a week, 2-4 sets, and 8-12 repetitions. Deconditioned individuals should begin with one set of 10-14 repetitions. Dumbbells, machines, or body-weight exercises (i.e. planks, push-ups, or wall sits) are all effective to increase overall muscle mass.


Balance training should be performed 2-3 days a week for 20-30 minutes for older adults to maintain physical function and reduce the risk of falls. Examples include activities such as yoga and tai chi.


Guidelines include holding each stretch 10-30 seconds and repeating 2-4 times, with the goal of 60 seconds total per joint. Flexibility exercises are most effective when muscles are warm and since static movement can acutely decrease power and strength, it is ideal to engage in static stretching after working out. Flexibility training helps to decrease risk of falls, back pain, improves balance and can prevent injuries. 

Making time for Exercise

In January 2019, National Public Radio published an article touting how obtaining ACSM guidelines can be achieved in just 22 minutes a day. The article, “Get Fit — Faster: This 22-Minute Workout Has You Covered,” explains how a total body workout can be achieved with 10 minutes of cardio, 8 minutes of weight training, and 4 minutes of stretching. With a limited amount of time for cardio, incorporating high-intensity intervals are an excellent way to increase one’s heart rate and get a great workout in (e.g., 1 minute high intensity 30 seconds recovery for 10 minutes). Collectively, working out for 22 minutes on 7 days a week allows the ACSM guidelines for physical activity to be met.

So…what is keeping you from exercising just 22 minutes every day? Especially considering this “something” has the potential of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, mortality, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and is known to improve mental health.

Until a miracle breakthrough drug is available to provide all of the associated benefits that exercise offers – can you allocate just 22 minutes, today, to working out?

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