Exercise is essential for your heart, strengthens your muscles and bones, lifts depression, and lowers stress. Nearly half the new cases of “adult onset” or Type 2 diabetes (the kind associated with extra weight and lack of exercise) are in young people. Perhaps the equally rewarding motivation of an improved appearance might interest you, not to mention the increased self-confidence and self-esteem that result from a commitment to some type of regular exercise.
A variety of exercises are essential to your body’s optimum health. These include: cardiovascular (or aerobic), strength or resistance training, and stretching or flexibility.
Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise includes any activity that causes your heart to work harder to get more oxygen to your muscles. Typical examples would include biking, jogging, brisk walking, skiing, basketball, swimming, dancing or soccer. Any of these activities that last longer than 3 minutes are considered aerobic. Aerobic activity decreases your resting heart rate, which puts less stress on your heart; increases the levels of HDL ( good cholesterol in your blood), and burns calories, which will help obtain or maintain a healthy body weight.
Strength or resistance training builds strength, muscles, and promotes healthy bones. It is essential for increasing your resting metabolism because muscles burn more calories at rest than fat. Aim for 2-3 sessions of resistance training a week, with at least 36 hours rest in between to allow the muscles to repair. Examples of this type of exercise include free weights, resistance bands, weight machines, and calisthenics.
Flexibility or stretching exercises are important because they improve balance, posture, flexibility, and prevent injury. Do them frequently either alone or as warm-ups and cool-downs. Yoga and Pilates are very popular examples of exercises that incorporate flexibility and stretching as well as build strength. They have the added benefit of being meditative and stress-reducing.
Soreness is normal after you first start exercising or when you try a new exercise, but pain is not desirable. Stop if you hurt. Aim for a “target heart rate” most of the time and vary the intensity of your effort (also known as “interval training”) to most efficiently raise your metabolism. To find your target heart rate, subtract your age in years from 220, which will give you your maximum heart rate. Then multiply that number by 0.60 and then by 0.85. Those numbers will be the lower and upper limits your heart rate should fall into—between 60% and 85% of maximum. Start at the lower end as a beginner, then strive for the higher number.
The Centers for Disease Control and the American College of Sports Medicine suggest 30 or more minutes of moderate physical activity on all or most days of the week. The US Department of Health and Human Services boasts higher standards and recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week. These minutes can be broken into 10 or 15 minute increments throughout the day, and the activity can be as simple as walking briskly to classes. Don’t forget that exercise can be done during all times of the day. It’s very important to take frequent “mini exercise breaks” during your day—say a 1-2 minute break every hour of sedentary work. This will really help reduce fatigue and your risk of developing an overuse injury. Walking, just marching in place, and stretching exercises are ideal for these mini-breaks.
Here are some recommendations to incorporate exercise into your daily lifestyle:
- Choose activities you enjoy. And it’s OK to have fun! Reading, listening to music, or watching TV while exercising are great ideas. Dance, walk through the zoo, or learn a new sport!
- Vary your routine. Keep your body guessing, and avoid the risk of boredom, burnout or injury.
- Choose a comfortable time of day. Don’t work out too soon after eating and be sensible about outdoor activities if it’s extremely hot or cold outside.
- Don’t get discouraged! It can take weeks or months to notice some of the improvements from exercise. Don’t be obsessed with the scale—focus on the immediate benefits of increased energy, less stress, more self-confidence, etc.
- Surround yourself with support. Exercising with someone else can make it more fun and more difficult to back out of when motivation lags. Check out intramural and club sports like soccer, basketball, lacrosse, ultimate Frisbee….
- Make exercise a priority.
- Set realistic goals. Don’t try to do too much too soon.
- It’s possible to get too much exercise. Pay attention to your body—it will let you know when you are pushing too hard. Excessive exercise is a component of some eating disorders; so watch for red flags such as feeling overwhelmed by guilt when you take a day off, or skipping times with friends, classes, or other activities to exercise.
- Reward yourself when you achieve your goals! Go to a movie, buy new clothes, get a new hair style, read a book, just relax!
by Maureen Haberman, N.P.