Exercise right to foster good health

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to exercise. Those who decide to undertake an exercise program are doing so for a variety of different reasons that range from losing weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease right through to training for a specific event such as a triathlon.

By understanding your ultimate goal, you can begin to shape your exercise program so that you are exercising right. If you are training for a marathon then your goal might be to increase your stamina so that you will be at your peak level of performance on the day. This goal requires a very different set of activities than a person who is looking to foster good health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, osteoporosis and chronic back pain.

Whatever your goal it is important to seek out the right advice. A good starting point for anyone considering an exercise program is the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the largest sports medicine and exercise science organisation in the world. ACSM uses the most current scientific research to develop their exercise guidelines.

ACSM provide basic exercise recommendations for cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance and flexibility. Unsure of what these are? Let’s break it down one by one.

Cardiorespiratory endurance

This is based on the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues over sustained periods of time. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week with sessions ranging from 20-60 minutes. Exercise intensity can simply be measured through a ‘talk test’. If you are exercising at a level where you can talk but cannot sing, then it is assumed to be moderate intensity exercise. If you can only say a few words before having to catch your breath, then you are exercising at a vigorous intensity. Good examples of activities that can improve cardiorespiratory endurance are brisk walking, running, swimming and cycling.

Muscular strength and endurance

Muscular strength is the ability for muscles to exert force for a brief period of time and muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle, or a group of muscles, to sustain repeated contractions or to continue applying force against a fixed object. Adults should train each major muscle group (including legs, chest, back, shoulders, arms and abdominals) 2-3 times per week with at least 48 hours rest between training the same muscle group. To increase strength, it is recommended that each exercise be completed for 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions. A lighter resistance of 15-20 repetitions is recommended for improving muscular endurance. Exercising with weights is the most common form of resistance training. However, it can also be completed with resistance bands or bodyweight exercises.


Flexibility is the ability to move your joints and use muscles through their full range of motion. Stretching is the best way to improve flexibility. Stretches to improve flexibility should be done 2-3 days per week with each stretch held to the point of tightness or mild discomfort for 10-30 seconds. Flexibility exercises are most effective when the muscle is warm so completing them after a short warm-up or as part of a cool down after exercise is a great time to do them.

Following these basic guidelines ensures that you are doing everything that you can to improve your health and reduce your risk of chronic disease and injury. These guidelines provide direction to exercising right if you are starting an exercise program for the first time. However, it is important to slowly build up to this level to allow your body to adapt and give it time to recover. It is equally important to continually push yourself and increase the duration/intensity/frequency of your exercise program in order to improve your fitness level.