Why should I exercise?
Regular exercise is a critical part of staying healthy. People who are active live longer and feel better. Exercise can delay or prevent diabetes, some cancers and heart problems. Exercise builds strength, gives you more energy and can help you reduce stress. It is also a good way to curb your appetite and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Who should exercise?
Increased physical activity can benefit almost everyone. Most people can begin gradual, moderate exercise on their own. If you think there is a reason you may not be able to exercise safely, talk with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. In particular, your doctor needs to know if you have heart trouble, high blood pressure or arthritis, or if you often feel dizzy or have chest pains.
What kind of exercise should I do?
Exercises that increase your heart rate and move large muscles (such as the muscles in your legs and arms) are best. Choose an activity that you enjoy and that you can start slowly and increase gradually as you become used to it. Walking is very popular and does not require special equipment. Other good exercises include swimming, biking, jogging and dancing. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking instead of driving may also be a good way to start being more active.
How long should I exercise?
Start off exercising 3 or more times a week for 20 minutes or more, and work up to at least 30 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. This can include several short bouts of activity in a day. Exercising during a break or on your way to do errands may help you add physical activity to a busy schedule. Exercising with a friend or a family member can help make it fun, and having a partner to encourage you can help you stick to it.
Is there anything I should do before and after I exercise?
You should start an exercise session with a gradual warm-up period. During this time (about 5 to 10 minutes), you should slowly stretch your muscles first, and then gradually increase your level of activity. For example, begin walking slowly and then pick up the pace. After you are finished exercising, cool down for about 5 to 10 minutes. Again, stretch your muscles and let your heart rate slow down gradually. You can use the same stretches as in the warm-up period.
How hard do I have to exercise?
Even small amounts of exercise are better than none at all. Start with an activity you can do comfortably. As you become more used to exercising, try to keep your heart rate at about 60 to 85% of your maximum heart rate." To figure out your target heart rate, subtract your age in years from 220 (which gives your maximum heart rate), and then multiply that number by 0.60 or 0.85. For example, if you are 40 years old, you would subtract 40 from 220, which would give you 180 (220 - 40=180). Then you would multiply this number by either 0.60 or 0.85, which would give you 108 or 153 (180 x 0.60=108 and 1=0 x 0.85=153).
When you first start your exercise program, you may want to use the lower number (0.60) to calculate your target heart rate. Then, as your conditioning gradually increases, you may want to use the higher number (0.85) to calculate your target heart rate. Check your pulse by gently resting 2 fingers on the side of your neck and counting the beats for 1 minute. Use a watch with a second hand to time the minute.
How do I avoid injuring myself?
The safest way to keep from injuring yourself during exercise is to avoid trying to do too much too soon. Start with an activity that is fairly easy for you, such as walking. Do it for a few minutes a day or several times a day. Then slowly increase the time and level of activity. For example, increase how fast you walk over several weeks. If you feel tired or sore, ease up somewhat on the level of exercise, or take a day off to rest. Try not to give up entirely even if you don't feel great right away! Talk with your doctor if you have questions or think you have injured yourself seriously.
What about strength training?
Most kind of exercises will help both your heart and your other muscles. Resistance training is exercise that develops the strength and endurance of large muscle groups. Weight lifting is an example of this type of exercise. Exercise machines can also provide resistance training. Your doctor or a trainer at a gym can give you more information about exercising safely with weights or machines. There are 1,440 minutes in every day. Schedule 30 of them for physical activity!