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Starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. After all, physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight, and even boost your self-esteem. And the benefits are yours for the taking, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults include aerobic exercise and strength training in their fitness plans, specifically:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week
- Strength training exercises at least twice a week
Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, and strengthen your bones and muscles. But if you haven’t exercised for some time and you have health concerns, you may want to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.
When you’re designing your personal fitness program, consider your fitness goals. Think about your fitness likes and dislikes, and note your personal barriers to fitness. Then consider practical strategies for keeping your fitness program on track.
Starting a fitness program is an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you can make fitness a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime.
Before you start any new fitness program, it’s wise to consult with your physician especially if you’re a man 45 or older or a woman 50 or older, the experts say.
“I always want anyone who’s getting started to know their life digits blood pressure, BMI (body mass index), cholesterol, blood sugar,” says Isphording.
Running is not the best exercise for everyone, Dolgener says. So listen to your doctor and your body.
“The worst thing you can do is start running, get injured, then stop exercising altogether,” says Dolgener.
Once you get a green flag from the doctor, don those new running shoes and start out with a combination of walking and jogging. For example, you might alternate walking for five minutes and jogging for two minutes.
Over time, steadily increase the amount of time you spend running until you’re able to jog for 20 minutes at a time, suggests Isphording. Once you achieve that, start increasing your distance.
For someone who has been sedentary, Dolgener recommends starting only with walking, then progressing to brisk walking before adding any jogging.
“Progression is the key element for someone who hasn’t done this,” says Dolgener.
Your cardiovascular system will adapt more easily than your musculoskeletal system, says Dolgener. People don’t usually give up running because their hearts can’t adapt but because of injury. Gradually conditioning yourself with a combination of walking and running gives your body time to adapt to the new stress on the joints and muscles.
Regular strength training (or weight training) definitely makes you stronger, and we’re not just talking about bulging biceps. Weight training strengthens bones, ligaments, and tendons as well as muscles all of which translate into improved balance, greater power, quicker recovery, and a reduced risk for injury.
A targeted weight training program will help you attain both muscular strength and muscular endurance. But what’s the difference? Read on for the details.
How to achieve muscular strength
Muscular strength is the ability of your muscles to exert forces against objects for short periods of time. In other words, it’s your ability to lift or move objects, or even your own body weight. For example, to pick up a bag of groceries, your muscles have to generate forces and then contract to complete the movement. Muscular strength allows you to perform these types of simple tasks, and the stronger you are, the easier these tasks become. Weight training exercises, like squats, bicep curls, and chest presses, are most commonly associated with strength improvements.
How to achieve muscular endurance
Muscular endurance deals with repeated muscular contractions or the ability to exert force continuously against an object. It’s actually the crucial link between muscular strength and aerobic fitness. You have to demonstrate muscular strength to move your body, and since your muscles do the actual work during aerobic exercise, they must be trained to handle repeated contractions and longer exercise durations. Therefore, you need muscular endurance to be aerobically fit. Push-ups and sit-ups are often used to test for muscular endurance, but any weight training exercise with lighter weight and more repetition will improve this aspect of fitness.
Stretching and Flexibility
Stretching is a powerful part of any exercise program. Most aerobic and strength training programs inherently cause your muscles to contract and tighten.
Stretching after you exercise may help improve the range of motion about your joints and boost circulation.
As a general rule, stretch your major muscle groups after you exercise. In some studies, pre-athletic event stretching has been shown to decrease athletic performance.
Overall, however, stretching after exercise can help you to optimize your joint range of motion. If you don’t exercise regularly, you may want to stretch a few times a week after a brief warm-up to maintain flexibility.
When you’re stretching, keep it gentle. Breathe freely as you hold each stretch for around 30 seconds. Try not to hold your breath. Don’t bounce or hold a painful stretch. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching. If you feel pain, you’ve gone too far.
Moving in sport- or activity-specific motion planes in gradually progressive speed (dynamic stretching) may be a helpful complement to static stretching and may help improve athletic performance.
Regular aerobic exercise can help you live longer and healthier. After all, aerobic exercise reduces health risks, keeps excess pounds at bay, strengthens your heart and boosts your mood.
Healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. That doesn’t have to be all at one time, though. Aerobic exercise can even be done in 10-minute increments.
And recent studies report significant health benefits from interval training, which means exercising at your near maximal intensity for short periods of 60 to 90 seconds.
For many people, walking is a great choice for aerobic exercise. In fact, walking is one of the most natural forms of exercise. It’s safe, it’s simple and all it takes to get started is a good pair of walking shoes and a commitment to include aerobic exercise in your daily routine.
Of course, there’s more to aerobic exercise than walking. Other popular choices include swimming, bicycling and jogging. Activities such as dancing and jumping rope count, too. Get creative.
Strength training can help you tone your muscles and improve your appearance. With a regular strength training program, you can reduce your body fat, increase your lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently.
Better yet, strength training doesn’t have to take as long as you might think. For most people, one set of strength exercises for major muscle groups performed two to three times a week is sufficient.
Strength training can be done at home or in the gym. Free weights and weight machines are popular strength training tools, but they’re not the only options.
You can do strength training with inexpensive resistance tubing or even your own body weight. With proper technique, you may enjoy noticeable improvements in your strength and stamina over time.