Fitting in Exercise: Every Minute Counts

woman runs in front of blue tile wall

A new year has begun, and if you've set a goal to exercise more we're right there with you! Exercise and healthy eating are hands-down the best ways to take control of your health. 

"Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women. Diet and exercise are what you can do to prevent heart disease," says Anna Bohnengel, M.S., R.D.N., L.D. Bohnengel is a dietitian whose career has focused on public health and health promotion. She now serves as the Spark employee wellness program manager at OHSU.  

Benefits of exercise 

Most of us exercise for the physical benefits like weight loss or control, increasing energy and strength, or lowering our risk of heart disease and other health problems because exercise helps us keep our cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar in check. 

Did you know that exercise has many other benefits? "Exercise can improve your productivity," says Bohnengel. "Going for a walk and getting fresh air helps you come back to your work or other tasks ready to be more efficient and more creative." 

Exercise can also help with insomnia, depression and anxiety, health conditions that disproportionately affect women. 

How much exercise do I need? 

According to the American Heart Association, you need 30 minutes, five times per week, of moderate to vigorous activity.

"You should be breathing hard enough that you can't sing," Bohnengel says. She recommends a good mix of cardio exercise, strength training, and stretching throughout the week. 

Fitting it in 

Research shows that you don't have to exercise for a long period of time to get the benefits. Thirty minutes spread throughout the day is just as valuable. 

"The less sitting the better," says Bohnengel. "Take opportunities to walk or take the stairs. Even a two-minute stretch break is powerful for your mental and physical health." 

When it comes to strength training, Bohnengel recommends using weights. But if you don't have any equipment available, you can still build muscle endurance through isometric exercise. These small, static muscle contractions, such as planks or wall sits, can be done anywhere, with or without weights. 

Here are some tips from Bohnengel on ways to stay motivated and fit exercise into your daily life. 

  • Set a goal – "Make sure it's achievable," Bohnengel says. "Once you accomplish it, you can always ramp up." 
  • Activate your commute – Walk or bike to work, or get off the bus a few stops early. 
  • Be accountable – "Find someone you like, and keep each other motivated," Bohnengel says. 
  • Build exercise into your routine – Tying a new habit to an established one can be very effective. Bohnengel recommends doing a wall sit while you brush your teeth, planking during television commercials, or dancing while you clean the kitchen. 
  • Have fun – "The best exercise for you is one you enjoy enough to keep doing," says Bohnengel.