Last night, before I went to bed, I was studying for my Personal Trainer Certification test.  Yes, this is what I do in my free time and find it fun.  Don’t judge.  Anyway, the instructor on the study podcast referenced the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines of 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity.

Whoa – less than 20% of women and 30% of men don’t engage in enough physical activity to keep them healthy?  And, quite frankly, I’m one of them? Why aren’t more behavior analysts heeding the siren’s call to help fix this?  

It was a great reminder to move, but what exactly does that mean for the academic? 

The first thing to keep in mind when engaging in an exercise program would be your current level of fitness and any limitations you might have.  It goes without saying to check with professionals, but as an example – I realized yesterday while using my barstool/standing desk that my core muscles have become pretty weak from sitting all day long.  I’m a slipped disk waiting to happen, given that I already have all kinds of spinal arthritis and disk issues.

Next, I wondered about the definition of moderate, easy, and vigorous.  Those seem pretty subjective and in the eye of the beholder. The CDC uses a measurement called METs – basically, how much energy does the activity use relative to a resting baseline?  While this is pretty precise, it doesn’t really help the average Doctor Prof trying to get healthy.

Therefore, the CDC suggests the average exerciser use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale to determine intensity. RPE is defined differently in different places – anything from a 1-10 to a 1-20 scale, but is nevertheless helpful when determining how difficult an activity might be. 

Rate of perceived Exertion Scale

I, personally, like heart rate better, but target heart rates can fluctuate with level of conditioning and medications (for example, Beta Blockers like Inderal). This article by Aamot, et al. (2014; behind a paywall) seems to suggest that we tend to overestimate how hard we are working. Which one works best for you will probably be an individual decision.

While I don’t have any data to support this – maybe I will some other time – I’ve noticed us academics tend to be all-or-nothing types.  If I can’t get 150 minutes at level 5, then I won’t do anything at all.  While reading the guidelines, it seems that we need a combination of all levels, as well as flexibility and resistance training, to be at our best. In future posts, I’ll look at ways we might tame the “all-or-nothing lizard” that gets us in so many ways.

What are ways you try to fit in exercise in your day, as well as tame the propensity towards perfection? Let me know!

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