The Ultimate Guide to Exercise: ASCM Guidelines for a Healthier You
November 14, 2023
One of the primary questions I field as a physical therapist is: “how should I exercise?” The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has long been at the forefront of providing evidence-based exercise recommendations to guide individuals on their fitness journeys. These guidelines are also used by the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). I refer to these guidelines routinely when I advise my patients, especially those who wish to embark on a journey to improve their health and fitness. In this blog post, I'll explore general exercise recommendations using ACSM guidelines (along some of my pearls), giving you the tools you need to build a healthier and stronger you.
The Importance of Exercise:
Before diving into the ACSM guidelines, let's remind ourselves why exercise is essential. Regular physical activity offers a wide array of benefits, including:
• Improved cardiovascular health
• Enhanced muscular strength and endurance
• Weight management and body composition improvement
• Better mental health and mood
• Decreased risk of chronic diseases
• Increased longevity
• Maintain or gain muscle mass (prevention of sarcopenia)
Now, let's explore the ACSM guidelines for making the most of your exercise routine.
ACSM emphasizes a balanced approach to exercise, combining different types to create a well-rounded fitness routine. These types include:
a. Cardiovascular Exercise:
• Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise.
• In general, moderate-intensity refers to an activity that brings your heart rate between 70-80% of your heart rate max (220-your age is the easiest calculation for this). Other forms of measuring exercise intensity are the Talk Test, PEV (perceived exertion value) or Metabolic Equivalents (METS).
• Incorporate activities like brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, and dancing.
• Gradually increase the intensity and duration to challenge yourself and improve your cardiovascular health.
• Include strength training exercises at least two days per week.
• Focus on major muscle groups with exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and push-ups. Some of these exercises should be done with caution as good form is paramount to performing them safely.
• Use proper form and gradually increase weight or resistance to build strength and muscle.
Flexibility and Mobility:
• Stretch your muscles and work on flexibility at least two to three days per week.
• Incorporate activities like yoga, Pilates, or static stretches.
• Maintain proper form and hold stretches for 15-30 seconds without bouncing.
• Include balance and coordination exercises in your routine.
• Engage in activities like Tai Chi or stability ball exercises to improve your motor skills.
Frequency, Intensity, and Time:
ACSM provides the FIT formula for exercise:
• Frequency: Aim for most days of the week, with at least 3-5 days of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.
• Intensity: Adjust the intensity to your fitness level, aiming for a challenging but sustainable effort.
• Time: Engage in aerobic exercise for 30-60 minutes, including a warm-up and cool-down.
To see continued improvements, it's essential to gradually progress your exercise routine. ACSM recommends:
• Increasing the intensity or duration of your workouts as your fitness level improves.
• Periodizing your routine, alternating between high-intensity and recovery phases.
• Consulting with a fitness professional for guidance on safe and effective progression.
Before starting any exercise program, consult with your healthcare provider, like a physical therapist (had to plug that!), especially if you have underlying medical conditions. Safety is paramount in the ACSM guidelines and,
It's crucial to:
• Listen to your body and avoid overtraining or pushing through pain.
• Use proper form to prevent injuries.
• Stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet.
Consistency and Enjoyment:
The ACSM guidelines ultimately emphasize the importance of consistency and enjoyment in your exercise routine. Find activities you love, set achievable goals, and celebrate your successes along the way. Make exercise a lifelong habit for a healthier and happier you.
The American College of Sports Medicine's exercise guidelines offer a comprehensive roadmap to help you on your fitness journey. Whether you're just starting or looking to take your fitness to the next level, following these recommendations will help you achieve your health and wellness goals. Remember, exercise is not just about the destination but the journey to a healthier, happier you. Start today and enjoy the many benefits of an active lifestyle!
Dirk is the founder of Forza, a physical therapist and a veteran. He has over 23 years of experience, is a nationally recognized speaker, and has published several peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked with athletes from USSA, MLB, NHL, NFL, and a variety of Olympic, collegiate and high school sports.