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Twenty...30...55. The numbers being tossed out right now about how many minutes you should work out sound more like an auction for the queen's underwear than organized goals. Just as you got used to hearing that you should get 30 minutes of moderate activity a day, along comes new evidence that you need 55 minutes most days of the week. And what, exactly, does "activity" mean? Well, keep your sneakers on: It's not as confusing as it sounds.
Why the different numbers? They're about different payoffs. The "30 minutes" guideline is the minimum that the Centers for Disease Control recommend for staving off chronic disease. The "55 minutes" number is from a new study in which people who did that much kept off 10 percent of their weight.

The fact is, staying at a healthy weight is part of staving off chronic disease. We think that workouts should do far more than one thing for you. They can fight aging, heart disease, osteoporosis, belly bulge, arthritis, memory loss, stress and more—so why not get them all? To keep your body from hitting its expiration date before you do, set these four goals. However, if you've been cozier with the couch than your walking shoes lately, do each one for 30 days before adding the next.

  1. Take two different types of steps.
    Work up to walking 10,000 steps a day, every day. Do 30 minutes' worth—about 3,000 to 5,000 steps—as brisk walking that gets your heart rate up perceptibly. This is not a stroll, but it's not as high as you'd get while doing a stamina workout such as the elliptical trainer at the gym. Your heart rate should be at least 10 beats per minute higher than when you're strolling. This is "moderate" activity. Pressed for time? Three 10-minute walks are just as good. Even these small amounts can lower your blood pressure, lousy (LDL) cholesterol and inflammation level and raise healthy (HDL) cholesterol.

    The other 5,000 to 7,000 steps are the casual ones you accumulate while walking through the grocery store, to the bus, around the office and with the dog. These steps burn calories and help keep your weight down, but they're not enough on their own.

    Where does housework fit in? If vacuuming gets your heart pumping and takes longer than 10 minutes (few household chores do, believe it or not), then chalk it up as moderate activity. But chances are it's an exception, so count these steps in your "casual" total.

  2. Heft some weights for 30 minutes a week.
    It only takes three 10-minute muscle workouts (time actually spent lifting the weights or using resistance bands) a week to get you strong enough to reverse some of the aging process. We're not talking about bench pressing monster truck tires. We mean using your body to push and pull against some kind of resistance, whether it's exercise bands, a weight machine, dumbbells or your own body weight (cheapest gym you'll ever join).

    Use proper form and never sacrifice form for weight (use the heaviest weight you can while maintaining perfect form). Developing flawless form usually involves instruction and periodic checks by a pro. This tiny amount of resistance training not only builds muscle but also helps keep bones strong and stokes your calorie-burning furnace—muscle burns more calories than fat. And it keeps your arteries young, your immune system fit, your risk of falls low and your body confidence high. 

  3. Break a sweat for 20 minutes three times a week.
    We call these "stamina" workouts—they make you sweat in a cool room. You can bike, use the elliptical trainer, jog, swim, dance or even make vigorous love...if you can do it that long. Stamina workouts strengthen your heart (and maybe your blood vessels).

    If you want to get into the next Olympics or just run a 5K, you'll need to do more than 60 minutes a week. But if you want optimum health, it's all you need. Overachievers, take heed: Once you go over 60 minutes or so, there's no more benefit from a longevity standpoint. In fact, the extra wear and tear on your body could actually decrease your lifespan.

  4. Stretch for five minutes five times a week.
    Simple yoga combinations and plain-vanilla stretching increase your flexibility. Hold a position for a minute or longer and you'll also get a meditative component, which can have spiritual and physical bonuses.

    Get Dr. Oz's simple, seven-minute morning yoga routine.
When it comes right down to it, working out is pretty simple: If it hurts, stop. If you dread your workout, change it. The pursuit of health should be a joy and a pleasure. Go out and love it.

For more from the YOU Docs, visit RealAge.com.

The wonder vitamin you're not getting enough of!

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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