Great article on Exercise and how much and how you should do your exercises.
Adding Fitness to Your Daily Routine
The first, and easiest, change to make on your journey to fitness is to add "lifestyle physical activity" to your day. This means being more physically active as you carry out your usual daily activities. You can:
park in a faraway spot and briskly walk to your destination;
take the stairs instead of an elevator;
rake leaves instead of using the blower;
play tag with the kids instead of computer games;
go golfing, bowling or dancing for fun;
walk down the hall instead of using the phone or e-mail to discuss an issue with a colleague;
take a walk during a morning or afternoon break and ask a friend to go with you;
do indoor chores wash the windows, scrub the bathtub or reorganize your closet, for example; and
do some active outdoor chores mow the grass, work in the garden or wash the car.
Making these changes is an easy way to improve heart and respiratory fitness, mood and muscular fitness and to reduce body fat.
However, for women who need to make more dramatic gains in fitness or would like to lose weight, a more formal exercise program, in addition to lifestyle physical activity, may be necessary. Your program should include the main components of fitness:
1. Aerobic activities, which involve using the large muscles of your body in rhythmic, continuous motion, improve cardiovascular conditioning and help reduce body fat. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming and aerobics or exercise classes or videos.
2. Strength training, such as weight lifting, improves muscular strength and endurance, helps maintain bone density, and raises metabolism, causing you to burn more calories
3. Stretching exercises, which include slow, gentle movements that elongate your muscles, improve flexibility. These exercises are often worked into exercise classes or videos and also are a part of yoga.
1. How Much Exercise Is Enough?
One of the most common questions is, "How much do I need to exercise?" The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other professional groups recommend that healthy women do some sort of aerobic exercise on most or all days of the week for 30 to 45 minutes. These minutes can be accumulated 15 minutes of an aerobics video in the morning and 15 minutes of brisk walking in the evening, for example. Intermittent exercise can be part of a good weight-loss strategy because your metabolism is elevated following each bout of exercise.
If you have been inactive, you need to work up slowly to this amount. Start with five or 10 minutes or whatever you're comfortable with every other day, and add one minute every other session. If you do too much too soon, you can become injured, fatigued and discouraged. At the top end, professionals recommend experienced exercisers do no more than 200 minutes per week of aerobic exercise with no more than 60 minutes per session.
Similarly, strength training should not be overdone. Start slowly, with lighter weights, and work up to heavier weights and more repetitions or sets of repetitions. You don't need to strength-train more than three days per week; and always wait at least 48 hours before exercising the same muscle group to give those muscles adequate time to recover between sessions.
Stretching and flexibility exercises should be done for 10 to 12 minutes three times a week. They can follow an exercise session. Some lighter stretches can even be done at your desk or while you watch TV. Examples of stretching exercises include shoulder or arm circles. There are also a number of stretches specifically targeted to arm, back, chest, thigh and calf muscles.
2. How Hard Should You Exercise?
The second question is, "How hard do I need to exercise?" As you work on increasing the length of your exercise sessions, you also need to work on increasing their intensity. Low-intensity aerobic exercise, like housework, gardening and walking the dog, provides a great deal of general health benefits, but to truly enhance fitness, especially if weight loss is one of your goals, you need to up the ante and exercise at a moderate or higher intensity with vigorous activities like brisk walking or jogging, singles tennis, aerobics classes or cycling.
Because the goal of aerobic exercise is to work your heart muscle, your exercise needs to increase your heart rate. One way to determine if you are exercising intensely enough is to measure your heart rate. Your heart rate should be about 70 to 85 percent of its maximum. Maximum heart rate for one minute is your age subtracted from 220. After warming up and then sustaining an aerobic activity for about five minutes, take your pulse by placing two fingers on the radial artery on your wrist. Count the beats for 10 seconds. The number of beats you count should fall between the two numbers listed beside your age in the chart below. The following chart illustrates recommended 10-second heart rate counts.
Age / Number of beats in 10 seconds:
20 / 23 to 28
30 / 22 to 27
40 / 21 to 26
50 / 20 to 24
60 / 18 to 23
Older adults should exercise as often as others but aim for a lower number of beats per minute. To determine exactly what your heart rate should be during exercise, subtract your age from 220; divide that number by 6 for a 10-second heart rate count; then multiply that number by 0.6 for the lower end of the range and 0.75 for the higher end.
For example, if you're 70 years old:
220 - 70 = 150 (this would be your maximum heart rate for one minute)
150 ÷ 6 = 25 (this would be your maximum heart rate for 10 seconds)
25 x 0.60 = 15 (this would be your target heart rate for 10 seconds)
An easier way to judge intensity is the "talk test." You shouldn't be exercising so hard that you can't talk with a friend or recite a poem. If you can't talk without gasping for breath, slow down.
If you are taking medications for high blood pressure, your heart rate may be kept artificially low and intensity should be monitored using the talk test.
The intensity of your strength training exercise will increase over time as well. Again, don't strain to do more, but slowly work your way up to heavier weights or more repetitions. The last two reps should be difficult to achieve, because the idea is for the muscle to be challenged; if the last two are no longer difficult, it's time to move to heavier weights. You will be amazed at how much more you can do after even a few weeks. Generally, select a weight that you can lift only 10-15 times and perform two sets of each exercise. Gradually progress to a weight that you can only lift six to 10 times and perform two to three sets.
3. What Kind of Exercise?
The third question is, "What should I do?" The key to sticking with an exercise program is choosing activities you enjoy, and there are many to choose from.
The best way to start strength training may be to hire a certified personal trainer for three or four sessions to develop a plan for you and show you how to use the equipment properly. You can use weight machines, free weights or resistance equipment like specially made rubber bands or a weighted vest, and you can strength-train at a health club or at home. Strength training videos that show you how to use common household items such as food cans and water bottles can save expenditures on weights or other fancy equipment. In any case, if you don't use the proper form, you can injure yourself, so you do need to learn how to use the equipment, whether it's from a personal trainer, a video or a book. Be sure any video or book you use is up to date by looking at the date it was published as some once-popular strength training exercises have been found to be potentially harmful.
Strength training is important to women of all ages. In young women, it can set the stage for a lifetime of stronger bones. In women over age 30, it can help slow or reverse the natural process of muscle degeneration. And studies have shown that older women who strength-train not only maintain bone density but have a much lower risk of hip fractures, due in part to the improvement in dynamic balance that often accompanies stronger muscles.
Functional or core strength training is a type of training that helps strengthen the muscles of the trunk, abdomen and pelvis. The idea is to strengthen these first muscles in the "movement chain" to prevent injury and to provide a solid base, so that the muscles further down the chain the legs and arms have a stable base supporting them and will also be strengthened safely and more efficiently. So, for instance, rather than strengthening your legs with hamstring curls and leg extensions which don't have much application in real life you do squats, step-ups or walking lunges that challenge your entire body and improve dynamic balance while strengthening your legs and thigh muscles.
The options for aerobic exercise are many and varied. Some of the more popular choices include the following:
Brisk walking is the most popular aerobic exercise among women and is appropriate for women of all ages. Walking at a swift pace burns almost as many calories as running or jogging for the same distance, and poses less risk for injury. If you are a beginning walker, choose a level surface. Gradually increase your pace until you can do one mile in about 15 minutes. To intensify the exercise, add hills and varied terrain to your course. You can also use hand weights of one to three pounds, but avoid ankle weights as they can cause injury.
Jogging burns more calories in less time and is as simple and convenient as walking, but it is too strenuous for some and may cause joint injuries. If you are a beginner, alternate walking and jogging for the first three or four weeks. Then gradually increase the jogging portion until you can comfortably run for the entire workout. Remember not to exceed your target heart rate; the talk test may be the best way to easily monitor your exertion level.
Aerobics classes or home videos offer variety, music and choreography, and some women prefer the extra motivation an instructor provides. Start with beginner classes or videos, and watch the instructor carefully for proper foot placement and body alignment to avoid injury, especially to your knees. There are a variety of types of aerobics classes, including:
Step classes incorporate a low bench that allows you to step up and down while performing various moves.
Boxing classes and Tae Bo have become a craze in some parts of the country. Boxing classes consist of aerobic moves combined with boxing moves such as punching and footwork. Tae Bo adds martial arts moves, including karate-type punches and kicks, to the mix. The feet and upper body move for most of the class, providing a total-body workout.
Slide classes involve a special mat and booties that slip over your shoes and allow you to slide back and forth on the mat. Great for toning the lower body but should be avoided by those with knee injuries.
Interval classes combine step or floor aerobics with weight training using hand-held weights or special rubber bands.
Toning/sculpting classes incorporate floor aerobics with a concentration on isometric exercises for specific body parts.
High-impact classes incorporate moves such as jumping, running and hopping, and are not recommended for women with joint problems in the lower extremities.
Low-impact classes incorporate moves where one foot is always on the floor. They are not necessarily low-intensity exercises, though.
Don't forget to take particular care of your feet! According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, proper shoes are crucial to successful, injury-free aerobics. Shoes should provide sufficient cushioning and shock absorption to compensate for pressure on the foot many times greater than found in walking. They must also have good medial-lateral stability. Impact forces from aerobics can reach up to six times your own body weight, which is transmitted to each of the 26 bones in the foot. Because of the many side-to-side motions, shoes need an arch design that will compensate for these forces, and sufficiently thick upper leather or strap support to provide forefoot stability and prevent slippage of the foot and lateral shoe "breakup." Make sure shoes have a toe box that is high enough to prevent irritation of toes and nails. Major shoe companies today have designed special shoes for aerobics, which provide the necessary arch and side support; they also have soles that allow for the twisting and turning of an aerobics regimen.
Spinning is an exciting aerobic exercise developed in the 1980s. Participants use a specially designed stationary bike, and the instructor leads the class on an imaginary ride accompanied by energizing music. During an average 45-minute class, you can burn 400 to 500 calories. Be sure to talk with the instructor before your first class to go over the type of clothing you might need (padded shorts), your target heart rate and your physical limitations.
Swimming is an ideal exercise for pregnant women and those with physical limitations such as musculoskeletal problems and asthma. However, swimming does not raise the heart rate quite as much as other aerobic exercises because humans are equipped with a reflex that causes the heart to slow down when immersed in water. For swimming, use a heart rate target of 75 percent of the maximum minus 12 beats per minute. It is also not the very best activity for losing weight because the body tends to conserve body fat as insulation in cold environments. For those whose only option is swimming, however, it is certainly better than remaining inactive. If you have arthritis, try to find a facility with a warm water pool that conforms to Arthritis Foundation guidelines.
Don't skip flexibility exercises, because they are beneficial in helping prevent cramps, stiffness and injuries. They also ensure a wide range of motion, particularly important as women age. Some flexibility/stretching regimes are popular enough now that you should be able to find a class for either that fits your needs and schedule:
T'ai chi, an ancient Chinese practice, is becoming popular for older adults. T'ai chi incorporates slow, graceful movements with relaxation and breathing techniques. It is said to improve strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and posture, and is recommended by the National Institute on Aging because it may reduce older adults' risk of falling. The Arthritis Foundation calls it the ideal exercise for arthritis sufferers. Traditionally performed on land, t'ai chi can also be done in chest-deep water for added resistance and support.
Yoga has been practiced for more than 3,000 years around the world, and now about 6 million Americans practice yoga. Yoga increases flexibility, strength, balance and range of motion. It also reduces stress and increases feelings of well-being. Everyone from high-powered executives to stay-at-home moms to people coping with illness or injuries can practice yoga. A typical yoga class involves breathing, a warm-up period, yoga postures that consist of specific ways of stretching and moving the body and relaxation and visualization. Be sure to find a qualified, certified yoga teacher and begin slowly.
Pilates is a 70-year-old, low-impact exercise technique that was first developed by German immigrant Joseph Pilates. It has recently experienced an upsurge in popularity, in part because of the greater popularity of yoga, but also because numerous celebrities have begun using it for toning and stretching. Some Pilates programs use a special machine with pulleys and ropes that gently stretch all parts of the body with mild resistance; others use a series of floor exercises more akin to yoga. It is also called "The Movement," and much of its focus is on strengthening back and abdominal muscles, increasing flexibility and building core strength.
You can buy a video to show you how to do stretching exercises in the privacy of your own home, or you can have a personal trainer at a gym show you how to incorporate the exercises after your cool-down period.
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." --Confucius
"Be not afraid of going slow, be afraid only of standing still."...Chinese Proverb
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