Major medical groups list regular exercise as an item for the prevention, treatment or cure of many diseases.
But men are more likely than women to meet the federal guidelines for adults of at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Black women are the least likely to have a regular exercise program.
Inactive adults have a higher risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers. Increasingly, research for women shows that exercise may even help reduce breast cancer risk.
The body has over 700 muscles attached to over 200 bones. Think of how many of them you don’t use. Exercise helps to tone muscles, strengthen tendons and ligaments, increase bone density, work vital organs and burn calories. Exercise also stimulates your metabolism to work faster to help maintain a healthy body composition.
If you have never worked out or you’re out of shape, get your doctor’s approval to start a program. You have to work your way into a program gradually. If you’re coming back from a long layoff (over six weeks) due to an injury or similar reason, you need to be very careful and follow your doctor’s orders.
The Centers for Disease Control and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more every day. They also recommend adding resistance training.
Aerobic training works the heart, lungs and circulatory system and helps burn body fat. Resistance training strengthens muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone tissue. Both forms of exercise are important if you want a totally fit, healthy body.
The word aerobic means with oxygen. Oxygen is used to produce energy during aerobic activities. To do this the body has to be in continuous motion for more than 20 minutes. Only aerobic exercise will help increase cardiovascular endurance by working the heart, lungs and circulatory system.
Some examples of aerobic workouts include 20 minutes or more of brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, skating, swimming, walking in a pool, aerobic dancing, racquetball and jumping rope. Workouts that include a lot of stop-and-go movements will burn calories but are not considered aerobic. These include karate, volleyball, weight training, sprinting, tennis, ballet and gymnastics.
Benefits associated with aerobic training include:
- A decrease in resting heart and resting blood pressure (which allows more blood to be pumped with less effort).
- A lower heart rate during physical activity and a decrease in recovery time following exercise.
- A decrease in cholesterol and triglycerides.
- An increase in heart muscle strength, endurance and oxygen utilization (which provides more nutrients and energy to the organs and tissues).
- An increase in fat-burning enzymes (which allow the body to break down fat).
- An increase in the rate at which your body burns calories, which can last up to 12 hours.
Doing aerobic exercises for up to 20 minutes will work the heart, lungs and circulatory system. You don’t start to burn body fat until you’re about 20-25 minutes into the workout. To burn significant amounts of body fat you should perform between 45 and 60 minutes of aerobic.
If you’re not already working out, it may take several weeks to reach this goal. You should start with 5 to 20 minutes of aerobic activity at a moderate pace. As your body becomes stronger, you want to increase your time and intensity (effort level) gradually.
Aerobic exercises are important, but muscle-strengthening exercises are just as important to have a fit body. In fact, strength-building exercises are a necessary part of a complete fitness program because they help keep the bones and joints strong enough to withstand aerobic training.
Strengthening muscles, tendons and ligaments with resistance exercise will make you stronger and help support the skeletal system and joints. Stronger muscles, tendons and ligaments can reduce your risk of joint problems and help existing joint problems. Talk with your doctor before you start because, depending on the joint problem, resistance training may aggravate it.
To stimulate muscle fibers to grow and increase in strength, a demand must be placed on the muscle. Resistance training does this. Calisthenics is a form of resistance training but lifting weights or using workout machines does a more effective job.
I recommend using a combination of free weights (dumbbells and barbells) and machines. Using free weights during some exercises will give you more control over the range of motion you go through. Because machines can’t possibly fit every body shape, they don’t provide a full range of motion with every exercise. People who don’t have access to resistance training equipment can improvise with sandbags, plastic bottles filled with water or even canned goods.
If you’re a beginner, have someone who knows what they’re doing take you through your first few workouts. Lifting weights can be dangerous if you don’t do the exercises correctly. Always concentrate on what you’re doing. Being careless and taking your movements for granted can cause injury. Concentrating on each repetition when you work out will also recruit more muscle fibers to do work, making each repetition more efficient.
Basic resistance training activities include the use of calisthenics, weight training and equipment such as exercise tubes. I like the idea of using weights because as you get stronger you need to increase the amount of weight you use. If you don’t have access to a gym you can buy a set of adjustable dumbbells, which will allow you to add weight as you get stronger. Also, a set of dumbbells will allow you to effectively work each body part.
Ideally, you should work each body part two times a week. Never work the same body part without skipping at least one day before working that body part again. If you can do more than 12 repetitions with a given weight you need to increase the amount of weight to effectively work that muscle group. If you can’t do at least eight repetitions with a given weight then you need to reduce the amount of weight you’re using. (Exceptions include power lifting and pyramiding bodybuilding programs.)
You should exercise each muscle group of the body rather than concentrate on one area to add balance in strength and muscle growth. Overdevelopment of strength and muscle tone in one body part will have an adverse effect on another body part.
Make sure you work the chest, shoulders, triceps, upper and lower back, biceps, abdominal muscles (stomach area), thighs (which will effect the buttocks) and calf muscles of the lower leg. Refer to an expert, such as a qualified personal trainer or exercise physiologist, to get you started.
I strongly recommend that you have a professional show you what to include in your routine and that you get an OK from your physician before you start. If you have chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, hypertension, arrhythmias, angina or diabetes, they must be stable before you start an exercise program.
Always breathe correctly during a resistance-training workout. Inhale during the relaxed phase and exhale during the actual lift. For instance, if you’re doing an arm curl (bicep curl) inhale as the weight is lowered and exhale as you lift the weight. Don’t exaggerate your breathing this can cause dizziness.
Don’t let these barriers stand in the way of getting fit:
- Lack of time: Plan the time you’re going to work out.
- Lack of motivation: Find a training partner with the same fitness goals. You can motivate each other.
- Parental demands: Include your children in your fitness program.
- Lack of energy: A regular exercise program will increase your energy level. If you keep this in mind it will help you push past the tiredness during your first few weeks of regular exercise.
- Health problems: Talk your doctor about your limitations and a build a good program around them.
- Lack of money: Numerous community programs are free.
Before starting your fitness program, consult your physician.