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If there was a medication that could reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia and certain cancers would you take it?

What if the side effects of that same medication improved your mood, helped manage your blood pressure and control your body weight? Unfortunately, no pill has been developed that is this powerful. Fortunately, we don’t need one — exercise is medicine and it is that powerful.

Just like any medication, the dosage of exercise you “take” is important. In exercise prescription, the “FITT” principle is used to breakdown the dosage: frequency, intensity, type and time. The FITT suggestions described below are taken from the Canadian Guidelines produced by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP).

Frequency and time: how much is enough?

Two-and-a-half hours per week is the recommended volume of aerobic exercise for adults 18 years and older (including those over the age of 65). To maximize its benefits, this can be broken down into portions of 10 minutes or more and should be done across the course of at least several days.

For example, walking for 30 minutes on five days of the week or doing 50 minutes each of cycling, swimming and walking per week would meet this recommendation.

Intensity: how hard does it have to be?

To achieve the health benefits from your aerobic exercise, the intensity should be moderate to vigorous. In moderate intensity exercise, you will be able to carry on a conversation but not sing a song. You should be breathing a little harder and starting to sweat. In vigorous activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words at a time and should be sweating more heavily.

Type: which activity is best?

The answer to this question is much more individual. Most importantly, the best aerobic activity for you is the one you enjoy the most, feels best to your body and you are likely to continue. Examples of moderate exercise include: walking, cycling, gardening, yardwork or housework. Vigorous exercise is achieved with activities like swimming, jogging and exercise classes or groups.

In addition to aerobic exercise, resistance training twice per week provides benefits in strength and bone density building. Strength training can be done with weights, resistance bands, your own body weight or through the nature of your activity (for example, pushing a wheelbarrow).

The only CSEP recommendation specific to those aged 65 years and older is to consider including exercises that improve balance to reduce the risk of falling.

These are, of course, general recommendations. If you are considering changing your routine, be sure to consult your physician first to ensure there is nothing that makes these recommendations inappropriate for you. Once you have the medical go-ahead, consider connecting with a certified trainer or physiotherapist for help developing the safest and most effective exercise plan for you.