Running in the 'Meda: 150 minutes a week

Running in the 'Meda: 150 minutes a week

Marty Beene

A recent news story from The Independent reported that lack of exercise has become a bigger health risk for women over age 30 than either smoking or obesity.

No, this doesn't mean that once you turn 30, you can pick up smoking and eat excessively as long as you exercise. The article points out that one of the main reasons smoking drops down a notch as a risk factor for heart disease is that smoking rates went down after age 30 among the study subjects. It further reminds us that there are many risk factors to heart disease (and many other health conditions), and the more you can address through lifestyle choices, the better your chances of avoiding the number one killer in higher-income countries.

Whenever I read an article like this, I put on my skeptic's hat and consider the context and source of the information. Is this a veiled attempt by tobacco companies to deflect criticism of their products? Did some fatty food seller fund the study in the hopes that people would exercise more, thinking that they could just keep eating their less-healthy food?

The source of the actual study is interesting: It's from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women's Health. Back in the mid-1990s, an Australian government agency, Women's Health Australia, started the study, and they assembled over 40,000 women in three age groups - 18 to 23, 45 to 50 and 70 to 75. They have followed these groups for the past 20 years, and in 2012-13 added another group of 10,000 women aged 18 to 23.

Personally, I like when studies include really large numbers of people - I know that certain analyses can accurately be done with smaller sample sizes, but it just seems more real to me when the numbers are big, like this. The data that has been collected is available (as far as I can tell) to anyone who wants to conduct a study. There are dozens of scholarly papers that have been published using the data, covering all kinds of health issues.

Going back to the article, a recommended exercise amount of 150 minutes per week is mentioned - this is consistent with American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The association further identifies an easy way to remember this as exercising for a half hour, five times a week. But what if you find it challenging to exercise that much? Consistent with the notion of doing as much as you can to minimize heart disease risk factors, strive for that 150 (or more), but don't give up if you can't fit it in right away.

Finally, I've mentioned this before, but remember that you're never too old to start exercising. Assuming your doctor clears you to start an exercise program, it doesn't matter of you're 10 or 110: You can always get health benefits from exercising. If you're struggling with how to get started or how to fit it into your busy schedule, ask me for advice in the comments below - I bet I or another reader could help brainstorm a solution.

Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.