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By now we all know the dangers of eating too much and exercising too little: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc. But even in a society as obsessed with slimness as ours, most of us would rather have a root canal than hit the gym. Well, couch potatoes, take heart! Experts now say that effective exercise can be incorporated into daily life so easily, even the most exercise-phobic among us can shape up.

"The recommendations for physical activity have changed drastically. They make it easier for the general public to achieve the correct levels of exercise because it includes such everyday activities as cleaning house and walking," says Regina L. Tan, DVM, MS, a CDC officer at the Georgia Division of Public Health. After the guidelines were changed from "20 minutes of vigorous activity 3 days per week" to "30 minutes of moderate activity 5 or more days per week," a new questionnaire for assessing activity levels was devised, based on those changes. Tan and colleagues set out to determine whether the new questionnaire offered an accurate means of assessing physical activity levels, and whether those levels had increased since the guidelines were revised.

For inactive people, doing any kind of activity will benefit their health. The American Heart Association recommends that inactive people gradually work up to exercising three to four times a week for 30-60 minutes at 50%-80 % of their maximal heart rate.

Tan's team polled more than 2,000 adult Georgia residents using both the old and new surveys.

"With the new questionnaire, it does look like the average amount of physical activity has increased somewhat," she tells WebMD. "We are, however, still investigating the accuracy of the survey, and the bottom line is that the increase, even if it's real, is very slight. Adults in the United States are just not getting enough physical activity, period. We are getting bigger and bigger."

The No. 1 problem, says Tan, is that most of us have very sedentary jobs.

"We sit at a desk all day long." To stay fit and slim, "you have to overcompensate for that, especially since a lot of what we're eating isn't all that healthy."

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Heart Rate Calculator

Ensure you're exercising hard enough to get a good workout, but not strain your heart.

While you are exercising, you should count between...

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Beats
PER
Seconds