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How much should I exercise every day?

By Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. So it’s the perfect time to realize that being physically active is one of the most important things we can do to keep our bodies healthy and strong. Participating in regular physical activity has many long-term health benefits, such as decreasing your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression. It can also help increase your energy levels, which prevents weight gain and improves sleep.

These health benefits can be realized by adding even small amounts of physical activity to your day––remember, any activity is better than none. Sure, we are all busy and finding time to hit the gym or go for a run can seem daunting. However, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests adults get either 2.5 hours of moderate activity or 1.25 hours of vigorous activity per week. This breaks down to as little as 20 minutes of activity per day!

Let me repeat: 20 minutes per day!

Anyone can do that right?! The easiest way to ensure you meet and stick with these goals is to do what you enjoy and consider doing it with a friend. Run, walk, bike, hike, do yoga, take Pilates or even just dance. Put on some music and go. No one said exercising has to be boring!

Activity is only half of the equation when it comes to staying healthy. Nutrition also plays an important role. When we exert ourselves through physical activity, we need to make sure that our bodies have enough energy to complete the task at hand. Complex carbohydrates and foods high in natural fiber and whole grains (fruits, vegetables, and wheat bread) are good foods to grab after workouts to replenish your body’s vitamins and re-fuel your muscles.

Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source; we break them down into sugar that we use for fuel during exercise. Eating foods high in fiber helps us control our blood sugar levels, allowing for a slow and steady release of energy to get us through our workouts. After exercise, we need to refill these sugar stores (known as glycogen), as they become depleted, especially if working out intensely or for longer than an hour. Some healthy post-exercise choices include fruit, chocolate milk, or even whole-wheat pretzels. Picking these healthy choices will not only help to control your blood pressure, maintain healthy bowel functions, and keep you slim, they also won’t undo all the hard work you just did.

Now that you know how to eat and how long you need to exercise to keep your body in tip top shape, get out there, grab a snack and start moving. It’ll do your body good!

For more from Amy, visit her website, Real Nutrition NYC, follow her on Twitter @RealNutritionNY or head to her Facebook page.