Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Importance of Exercise

Regular exercise is absolutely imperative for good health, because like it or not, a sedentary lifestyle leads to disease. We were designed to be active, productive and youthful. Along with eating a healthy diet we must move and build our strength in order to be able to maintain it. As we put a greater demand on our body it will rebuild a little stronger each time to compensate for the new greater demand.

Exercise has these additional benefits:

1. The heart and cardiovascular system become stronger.
2. Our metabolism becomes balanced, burning calories and unused fat for energy.
3. Our glands will release the proper hormones for growth and repair, helping our hormones stay balanced.
4. The lymphatic system will rid the body of toxins.
5. Assists in the regulation of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
6. Controls diabetes or cuts the risk.
7. Improves emotional well being.
8. Protects against forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The new dietary and fitness guidelines recommend 30 to 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. If you feel that 30 minutes 3 times a week was hard enough to find time for, much less the new recommendation, all is not lost. There are experts that feel once you work yourself to a good level of fitness, backing off to 30 minutes 3 times a week may suffice for sustaining a maintenance level of fitness.

Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

There are many forms of aerobic exercise that you can incorporate into your lifestyle. Lets take a look at what you might do to get an aerobic work out.

Aerobic/Cardio Exercise

1. Walking (indoors in place or outdoors) at a vigorous pace.
2. Running or Jogging (be careful, these can be hard on the joints).
3. Bicycling (stationary, spinning or standard outdoors).
4. Aerobics (step, dance, kickboxing, jazzercise etc.) take a class at the gym or purchase one of the many videos on the market to workout with at home.
5. Equipment (Elliptical, Rower, Stepper, Treadmill, Rebounder etc.)
There are many different pieces of equipment to assist you in performing cardio.

Start slow and easy. Work your way up to a good intensity level but don’t work yourself to exhaustion. This can over tax your system by creating a high level of oxidative stress, making your exercise more harmful than beneficial. A good rule of thumb to create a safe, but intense enough level to yield healthful benefits, is if it’s a little difficult to carry on a regular conversation. If you can’t carry on a conversation at all, you’re going to fast, so back off a little. Practice makes perfect.

No matter what type of aerobic/cardio activity you decide to use, consistency is the key to being successful. Being a weekend warrior doesn’t get the job done.

It has been proven that strength training is just as important as aerobics or cardio. You don’t have to become an avid bodybuilder, just do enough to keep the muscles working and strong.

Strength Training

Strength training (anaerobic activity) comes in many different forms and is just as important as aerobics/cardio. Our muscles will gradually waste away if they are not worked (use it or lose it). By working the muscles and putting a greater demand on them, they will respond and build stronger to meet the greater demand. We will have more strength, which in turn will make daily activities much easier. This will keep us from becoming weak and frail as we grow older.

You’ve probably heard the term “NO PAIN NO GAIN”. Well, it is true, but let’s keep it in perspective. There is good responsible pain and there’s bad pain. Let’s look at the bicep curl for instance, and see how it creates the good pain.

With the proper weight dumbbell in hand, arm hanging down to the side of your leg, and your palm facing your leg, elbow into your side staying stationary and acting as a hinge, raise your lower your arm and dumbbell rotating your palm to face your shoulder on the way up. Do not pause at the top, but immediately lower the dumbbell back to starting position. Repeat this movement several more times in a smooth controlled manner.

Lets say you were able to repeat that movement 8 to10 times. On the last couple of movements you would begin to feel a tight burn in the bicep (muscle on the front of your upper arm). You would have worked the muscle to partial failure (meaning it would have been difficult to have done one or two more movements). What you would be experiencing in this scenario is good pain. If you train incorrectly or try to lift too much weight, you might feel pain in a joint or damage a muscle (this is bad pain). Stop immediately and seek medical attention.

In weight lifting terms, you just completed one set of 8-10 repetitions.
When you started to feel the burn, you were slightly tearing down your muscle and with proper rest and nutrition, over the next several days it will rebuild slightly stronger. This is basically how the process works. You tear it down and it rebuilds. If you are a beginner or especially a senior, please take it slow. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t overdo it in the beginning, because you will become injured or discouraged. This could cause you to give up and quit all together.

Your muscles, joints and nervous system will adjust and your strength will increase gradually over time. You can use this as your clue to add additional weight. This is what you strive for. No matter what your age, if trained correctly, you will see great improvement over time.

Cardiovascular experts now realize that strength training offers a significant benefit to health and fitness that far exceeds just shaping muscles. The results from strength training studies on the elderly have been outstanding. If you are elderly and your doctor has cleared you for exercise, we highly recommend joining a gym or hiring a certified fitness trainer. This will insure that you do the exercises correctly so that you do not injure yourself. Cardio, strength training, flexibility and balance training are handled quite well using professionals.

Falling is the leading cause of death in the elderly. This is due in part, to inactivity, poor eating habits, wasting of muscles and the fragility of the body. Studies prove that if exercise is done correctly, strength, flexibility, and balance can be increased and maintained by an amazing percentage, regardless of age.

Strength Training Equipment

Let’s look at the types of equipment that work great to strengthen your muscles and improve your health.

1. Free weights (dumbbells and barbell, weight plates)
2. Machine weight systems
3. Elastic bands and cords
4. Free hand exercise (push ups, chin ups, etc.)

Free weights are very easy to use. They come in one solid piece that is as light or as heavy as you like or you can get a complete set with two small bars, longer barbell and varying poundage plates that can be added. With the addition of an adjustable bench, you have a very inexpensive basic home gym.

Machine weight systems come in all sizes and prices. They are very user friendly and easy to get accustomed to. You can find them in most gyms or you can purchase one for home use. They come with instructions.

I’m sure you’ve seen commercials on TV for Bowflex and Weider’s Crossbow (similar to Bowflex). We own a Weider Crossbow and have owned one of the very first Bowflex units made by Schwinn in the past. With no ties to either company we highly recommend both units. They provide a very safe and efficient workout. We alternate using the crossbow and free weights for variety. Some bodybuilding experts feel that you can’t get a quality muscle building workout with either of these machines, but they work quite well for us and many others.

We’ve also used the Total Gym (advertised by Chuck Norris) and can tell you, it will give you a great workout if used correctly. It’s probably not for someone who wants to become a competition bodybuilder, but it will definitely give you a quality workout (cardio and resistance).

All of the above equipment comes with instructions and workout programs, so you really can’t go wrong with most equipment on the market. There is one exception in our opinion and that’s expensive abdominal gadgets. Fitness experts say, there is no such thing as spot reduction, especially the stomach. You can work the abs til the cows come home and if they’re still covered with layers of fat, their not going to show. The key is overall body fat loss. Then adding the standard variations of crunches and leg lifts needed to train the abs. That’s when the abs will begin to show. Just be patient.

There are many total body workout books, videos, and TV programs on the market. It doesn’t matter which equipment, gym, or program you decide to use, it’s dedication and persistence that will pay off in the long run. Diet is key also. When you exercise with enough intensity to yield health benefits, your body is under extra oxidative stress and needs to be properly nourished to protect and rebuild. A good diet is absolutely imperative.

Adding a cardiovascular and strength training program in your life will let you exercise “Our Birthright to Good Health”.

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