Daily exercise and nutrition goals: What should you be aiming for?

  • Many of us live a fast-paced lifestyle, making it hard to eat healthily and exercise regularly.
  • But guidelines from around the world show that a healthy diet and exercise routine cannot be neglected.
  • From helping to stave off disease to helping us live longer, there are many reasons to live healthily. 

We get it. In a world where fast food is cheaper and more convenient, and our lives have become so fast-paced, it’s challenging to focus on healthy eating and exercise habits.

Consistent research has shown trends toward unhealthy eating in many parts of the world, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that our lifestyles are becoming more sedentary

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But eating the right foods and keeping active have a huge impact on our long-term health, from helping to stave off many serious diseases and conditions (including heart disease, stroke, dementia and depression) to helping you live a longer, better-quality life. 

So you know that eating a healthy balanced diet, along with regular exercise, is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health and well-being and leading a fulfilling life - but what should your daily goals be? We take a look.

Exercise goals: Adults aged 19-64

Adults between the ages of 19 to 64 should aim to do some type of physical activity every day, says Cover Media.

In the UK, experts at the National Health Service (NHS) recommend this age group do at least 150 minutes (or 2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity workouts a week.

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Recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) are exactly the same. For additional health benefits, they add that you should increase your moderate-intensity exercise to 300 minutes per week.

If you’re into muscle-strengthening activities, aim to work on two major muscle groups two or more days a week.

Exercise goals: Adults aged 65 and older

People aged 65 years and older should also aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity - or an equivalent combination of both.

If you have poor mobility, aim to perform exercise that enhances balance and prevents falls three or more days per week, advises the WHO. For example, the “sit-to-stand exercise” builds leg strength and improves body mechanics and balance, which can be helpful in reducing falls, explains experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

What are moderate and vigorous activities?

Moderate-intensity activities get you moving fast or strenuously enough to burn off three to six times as much energy per minute as you do when you are sitting quietly, explains Harvard Health

Examples of such activities include walking very briskly, cleaning heavily (such as washing windows or vacuuming), swimming laps, jumping rope, mowing the lawn and cycling with light effort. According to the Cleveland Clinic, moderate activity is usually made up of exercises that get your heart rate up to 50% to 60% higher than its rate when you are at rest.

Vigorous activity, on the other hand, is done with a large amount of effort. Examples include hiking, jogging, carrying heavy loads and cycling fast.

If you want to measure your activity intensity, you can do this via a method called the “talk test”, explains Nikki Prosch, health and physical activity field specialist at South Dakota State University, US.  

“If you are doing a moderate intensity activity, you can talk but not sing during the activity. If you are doing a vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without taking a breath,” she explains.

Your diet recommendations

You should have a daily intake of at least five fruits and vegetables per day, notes Cover Media, with 80 grams of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables counting as a single portion.

It adds that only one portion of the same fruit or vegetable counts, which means you can’t double up - each portion has to be a different food. 

The ideal daily calorie intake differs for women and men. For women, it should be 2 000 calories a day and 2 500 calories a day for men. 

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Fat consumption also varies, with the daily recommendations being a maximum of 30 grams of saturated fat for men and 20 grams of saturated fat for women. Remember, saturated fats are generally unhealthy and raise levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, so eating too much of these in your diet is harmful. Saturated fats come from animal fats, e.g. meat, lard and dairy products, News24 previously explained.

On the other hand, maximum sugar intake guidelines are the same for women and men. All adults should have no more than 30 grams of free sugars (around seven sugar cubes) a day. Consuming free sugars is associated with a range of negative health outcomes, including increasing the risk of tooth decay, contributing to unhealthy weight gain, and influencing blood pressure, says the WHO.

As for salt, you shouldn’t exceed five to six grams of salt daily. According to the WHO, keeping salt intake to less than five grams per day helps prevent hypertension and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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