Why Exercise

Why bother exercising?

Getting in condition means improving your whole body fitness. Some exercises strengthen your muscles (e.g., weight lifting, horseback riding) while others improve your flexibility (e.g., yoga). "Aerobic" exercise improves your body's endurance by helping your heart, blood vessels and lungs work more effectively. Exercises that are aerobic are those in which your muscles use oxygen to function - these exercises are also the ones that make you breathe faster, sweat, and feel your heart pound.

Knowing what you want out of exercise may get you motivated to begin. Some benefits of exercising include:

  • More energy
  • Improved self-image
  • Weight control without dieting
  • Control over appetite
  • Higher endurance or stamina - not being winded easily
  • Better conditioned heart and lungs
  • Less tension
  • Greater management of stress
  • Better ability to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Less chance of injury
  • Toned muscles
  • Healthier cholesterol level
  • Quicker healing

How much should I work out?

If you begin an exercise regime that is too advanced, you increase your chance for injury. Build your routine gradually to help prevent sore muscles, injury or burnout. You won't see conditioning results after one weekend of working out; usually your fitness level will start to improve after 2 to 3 weeks, with measurable improvement after 4 to 6 weeks of regular exercise. Most people, however, find the feel better mentally after only doing a little exercise.

Before starting, figure out how intense your workout needs to be in order to improve your cardiovascular system. Find your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart can beat) and your target heart rate by using the formula below:

  • 220 - your age = Maximum Heart Rate
  • (.60) x your Maximum Heart Rate = Lower target heart rate
  • (.85) x your Maximal Heart Rate = Upper target heart rate

Calculate the last two numbers to identify your target heart range for exercising. Try to keep your heart beating at a rate between these numbers for at least 20 minutes to improve your cardiovascular system.

Remember, an exercise program doesn't have to take hours you don't have.

As little as 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week can start to improve your physical fitness.

Exercising at more than you target hear rate will do little to condition you heart and lungs and may cause harm. On the other hand, exercising below 60% of your maximal heart rate doesn't work your cardiovascular system hard enough to produce conditioning benefits.

Many new exercisers make the mistake of working out too hard. When you begin your exercise program, try to keep your heart rate at 60% of your maximum; as you get into better condition, gradually increase the intensity of the workout. If you are exercising within your target heart rate, you should be able to carry on a conversation while your heart is beating fast, and you should be sweating. If you can't talk easily, you are pushing your body too much and need to slow down. Take your pulse for ten seconds and multiply that number by 6 to find your hear beat per minute. Do this three times during your workout to see if you are working hard enough or if you are overworking your body.

Your workout, should involve three phases: 5 minutes of warmup, 20 or more minutes of exercising in your target range, and 5 minutes of cool down. A warm up helps loosen your muscles and helps your heart and lungs to slowly increase their level of functioning. For a warm up, try doing your activity at a slow motion pace.

The cool down is also very important. It allows your body to slowly relax and helps avoid the dizziness and muscle soreness that stopping abruptly can cause. Repeating your warm up exercises or walking can effectively cool you down.

Do I need special clothes?

Wear anything that is comfortable and allows movement without binding. Make sure your clothes are cool enough for when your body heats up - whether outdoors or indoors. Wear layers of clothing for exercising outside in the cold. Try wearing one layer less than you would wear if you were not exercising outside, then, if this is still too hot, you can remove another layer. It is better to have too many clothes than too few (and risk hypothermia).

When you exercise outdoors - particularly at night, wear light-colored clothes or reflecting bands so motorists can see you. Remember other safety equipment, such as goggles for racquetball, a helmet for biking, etc.

Proper footwear for your workout should provide adequate arch support and sole protection, and above all should be comfortable. Check with an athletic shoe store to find the best shoe for your needs.

So…How do I get started?

The activities you choose depend upon you. Do you want to work out alone or with others, and if so, with how many? Do you want a workout at home, in a gym or outside? How much money can you afford to put into a program? What's your schedule?

An exercise partner can help you stay motivated to exercise. Ask a friend to play racquetball with you, or join a jogging club. If you really want to be alone, a crowded aerobics class at the gym may not work for you; running by yourself after work may be more realistic. Try it all out and decide what suits your style.

Remember, for aerobic conditioning, your exercise should be "FIT":

  • Frequency - performed at least 3 times per week
  • Intensity - making you work within your target heart range
  • Time - done at least 20 minutes without stopping

Running, cross country skiing, rowing, fast cycling, swimming laps, and walking at a moderate pace are a few of the best aerobic activities. You can make less strenuous exercises into more of a workout if you increase the pace or length of the exercise. Doing a variety of exercises, aerobic and anaerobic, keeps your program interesting. If you're having fun, you'll probably continue.

Once I reach my fitness goal, can I stop?

If you skip exercising for a while after being in shape, you will lose some benefits of your program.

If you miss some exercising because of illness or other reason, begin again at a lower level than before, in order to let your body recover. When you feel well again, start at one-half to two thirds your normal level and try to get back into the routine.

Is it possible to over-do it?

The benefits to exercising are great, but exercising to an extreme is hazardous. A nutritious diet is especially important for exercisers in order to provide adequate energy and prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Over-conditioning can cause muscle and joint injuries and can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to "whatever is going around." Women who over-exercise may have menstrual cycle irregularities. People with diabetes or cardiovascular problems, or over age 35 should check with their health care provider before starting a conditioning program.

Anything else?

Yes, water! With each workout, you will be losing water (through sweat) which is critical to your body's metabolism and temperature regulation. To avoid fatigue or nausea from dehydration, drink at least 16 ounces every 10-20 minutes during your workout. Avoid alcohol and "athletic" drinks like Gatorade (or dilute with one to three parts water) that contain sugar and can be high in calories. Alcoholic drinks can interfere with your performance and increase dehydration.

Carbonated drinks may cause stomach upset during your activity; however, these may be fine after your workout.

REMEMBER - an exercise program can be a fun addition to your week that doesn't have to cramp your schedule. Do a variety of exercises, set realistic goals for your routine and your fitness level, and enjoy yourself.

The saying goes that once you exercise regularly, you'll miss not exercising.