Wednesday, January 25, 2012
What is interval training?
In interval training, you alternate between bursts of higher-intensity exercise and periods of less-intense exercise (or "active rest"). As you get more fit, you decrease the "rest" time and increase the high-intensity periods. You'll see big fitness gains if you train this way regularly.
For example, if you now run for 30 minutes at 6 mph, try this routine: Jog for five minutes to warm up. Then, increase your speed to 6.5 mph for one to two minutes (less if you can't go that long). Then, jog for a few minutes at your normal speed, then again at the faster speed, and so on until you reach your time limit. Your ratio of work to active rest would be 2:3 if you ran for two minutes at 6.5 mph, then jogged for three minutes at 6 mph.
You can also use your heart rate to set intervals. For example, if your heart rate hits 70% of your maximum when you jog at 6 mph, start at that speed. Then increase either your speed or elevation (if you're on a treadmill) to get your heart rate to 85% or 90% of maximum for one to three minutes. Then, go back to jogging at the 70% heart rate, and continue alternating.
As your fitness improves, your heart rate will be lower at the higher speeds, and then you can spend more time at those speeds. A good starting ratio of work to active rest is 1:3; you can always vary the ratios if they turn out to be too hard or too easy.
I recommend interval training just once a week to start, as it is more intense than you may be used to. Once you get a feel for it, you can do it more often.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
What if I am physically unable to exercise due to a medical condition?
There is virtually no medical condition that will keep you from doing any type of exercise. Even people with congestive heart failure -- who were long told not to exercise at all -- can benefit from moderate amounts of activity.
And people with limited mobility can often do water exercises, or do yoga or other exercises while seated in a chair (some "chair exercise" videos are now on the market). Of course, if you have any medical condition, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
If you have questions about your condition or are still not sure what exercise you can safely do, please consult your physician.
Monday, January 23, 2012
What's the bottom line to weight loss?
The bottom line to weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume all day. (The behavior isn't simple, but the equation is.) For example, if you eat 2,500 calories a day and only burn 2,000, you gain weight; if you eat 1,500 calories and burn 2,000, you lose weight; if you eat 2,000 and burn 2,000 you maintain weight.
It's true that there are several medical conditions, and medications, that can make weight loss difficult (see below). But even if one of those factors applies to you, you still need to burn more calories than you consume to lose weight.
The good news is this: You can lose weight with a very modest amount of exercise.
People lose weight all the time without exercise by reducing their caloric intake. But keeping the weight off without exercise is another matter. Many experts agree that exercise is the single best predictor of long-term weight control. If you lose weight and don't start exercising, there's a very good chance you will regain it.
Here are some factors that can keep you from losing weight and/or cause weight gain:
• Thyroid or adrenal gland problems.
• Medications like antidepressants.
• Stopping smoking.
• Rapid weight loss. This can lower metabolism because the body senses it is starving and make it harder to lose weight. The decrease in metabolic rate is often due to loss in muscle (when you lose weight, approximately 25% of the loss comes from muscle), so lifting weights is a good idea.
• Menopause (and premenopause).
If you think any of these things are factors for you, your doctor may be able to help. Otherwise, patience, determination, regular physical activity, and attention to your diet are the keys to long-term weight control. Doing these things will give you your best shot at reaching your weight loss goals and keeping the weight off.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
My weight has hit a plateau. What do I do?
There are several reasons why your weight can hit a plateau, including:
• Losing weight too quickly. When this happens, your metabolism (the rate at which your body burns calories) can slow down because your body senses it is starving. Rapid or large amounts of weight loss can slow your metabolism by as much as 40% in six months.
• Losing muscle. When you lose weight, up to 25% can come from muscle tissue. And since muscle is the engine in your body that burns calories and helps maintain your metabolism, losing it can hinder weight loss. Weightlifting can help preserve and build muscle.
• Reaching your body's particular set point -- the weight and metabolic rate your body is genetically programmed to be. Once you reach that point, it's much harder to lose weight and even if you do, you're likely to regain it. If you're at a weight at which you've hit a plateau in the past, if your body generally seems to gravitate toward that weight, and you're within a BMI (body-mass index) range of 20 to 25, then you may be at your set point.
• Decreasing your physical activity and/or increasing your caloric intake. People lose weight all the time by reducing their caloric intake without doing any exercise, but it's almost impossible to keep weight off without exercising. Many scientists agree that physical activity is the single best predictor of whether a person will maintain a weight loss.
• Other health factors, including thyroid or adrenal gland problems; medications like antidepressants; quitting smoking; menopause; and pregnancy.
Even with any of the above factors, the bottom line to losing weight is eating fewer calories than you burn. Studies show that people almost always underestimate how many calories they're eating. So if you're struggling with weight loss, you're still exercising, and you've ruled out any of the above reasons for weight plateaus, look at your calorie intake.
As for exercise and weight plateaus, sometimes a change in routine can help. Instead of the treadmill, try the bike, or the stepper. Instead of a dance class, try a stretch and tone class. If you're not weight lifting, this would be a good time to start. If you already do aerobic exercise, try adding intervals (short bursts of higher-intensity exercise) to your aerobic workouts. And keep reminding yourself that if you maintain an active lifestyle and continue with healthy eating, you will reach your goals.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
What should my heart rate be during exercise?
Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, recommends calculating your target heart rate with a formula called the "heart rate reserve" method. Use a watch with a second hand to keep track of how many times your heart beats per minute. You can feel your heartbeat at the underside of your wrist or along the side of your neck.
Here's how to use the formula:
• Determine your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) by subtracting your age from 220.
• Then, subtract your resting heart rate (it's best to take this when you first wake up in the morning) from your Maximum Heart Rate to find your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR).
• Multiply your HRR by the percentage of your MHR at which you wish to train (60% to 85% is the usual range for people looking to increase fitness and health).
• Add your resting heart rate back to that result to get your target rate.
So, assuming an age of 27, a resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute, and a desired training range of 70%, the calculation would look like this:
220 - 27 = 193
193 - 70 = 123
123 x .70% = 86
86 + 70 = 156
Remember, this is an estimate, not an absolute. Also keep in mind that athletes may exceed the training zone, and even the maximum heart rate, during high-intensity training.
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