Exercise for every need

The new Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health documents the case for exercise at various frequencies, durations and intensities. However, a lot of the public health efforts to promote the report will emphasize the great gains that would be made if only the great multitude of Americans who are doing nothing would move to a very moderate, but regular, level of exercise.

To balance the public impression that you don’t really have to do much exercise (which is true only for basic health gains), exercise professionals and marketers will need to carefully craft their messages. Those messages will need to leave behind any notion that “one size fits all” where exercise is concerned. The amount and kind of exercise will depend on the goal of the activity and the differences and preferences of the individuals involved.

We know, and the Surgeon General confirms it, that larger doses of exercise produce greater results — both for health and for fitness. It’s a continuum. But sometimes people are better challenged by clear steps instead of a featureless continuum without milestones. So, one sleepless night, I dreamed up the following steps for exercise programs that would be within reach of most people who might consider joining a fitness center.

Feel free to adapt this scheme for clarifying the value of different exercise levels to your clients. Your comments for refining the scheme would be welcome, too.

Exercise for Everyone

First Step

Transition Step

Second Step

A Step Beyond

Title of level

Moving for Health

Embracing Vitality

Functioning Optimally

Achieving Excellence


For your basic health

For greater health and vitality

For physical fitness

For athletic performance

Exercise/activity amount

“Exercise Lite” Brisk 30-min. walk or the equivalent, most days*

Added intensity and some strength exercises

Vigorous activity 20-30 min., 3-5 days a week at 40-85% VO2max. 8-10 resistance exercises, 1 set, 10-12 repetitions 2 days a week**

Specialized high-intensity regimens

Risk of occasional injury

Very low



Moderate to high

Mascot ideas

Speedy tortoise

Lively squirrel

Strong gazelle

Invincible tiger


Just move it!

Move it on up!

Be your best!

Go for the glory!

Scientific consensus


Implied from first and second steps: this is a tactical step to ease the transition


Varies, because regimens are so varied


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