Let’s face it: Dieting is difficult, and permanently upgrading your eating habits takes determination too. When making these changes, you need all the help you can get—and luckily there’s one inexpensive, medically approved strategy that will not only boost the effectiveness of your diet, but also keep the pounds from coming back. For good measure, it will give you a better-looking body, and a healthier, happier life.
The strategy is simple: Eat less. Exercise more.
Why Dieting Isn’t Enough
If you still secretly believe, as so many people do, that you can slim your body and keep it slim forever with one crash diet, you’re headed for disappointment. At first, your efforts may be successful. But if you diet without exercising, you’re at risk of becoming a fat person in a temporarily thin body. Remember that 95 percent of all dieters will eventually regain the weight they’ve lost if they don’t make permanent changes in their eating habits—and don’t increase their level of physical activity during (and after) a diet.
In addition to boosting the results of your diet and keeping extra pounds off afterwards, exercise offers you these valuable health bonuses:
|•||Lower blood pressure|
|•||Reduced risk of heart disease|
|•||Increased endurance, strength, energy, and productivity|
|•||Improved body tone and enhanced attractiveness|
|•||Reduced risk of osteoporosis|
|•||Protection against adult-onset diabetes|
|•||Help with smoking cessation|
And there’s more. Exercise not only increases your body’s metabolic rate and helps you burn calories faster, it also stabilizes your body’s insulin and blood sugar levels, and can decrease your appetite. Regular exercise also fights the effects of aging and can even extend life. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health indicated that men and women aged 86 to 96 tripled the muscle strength of their legs when they worked out with weights. This is especially good news for older seniors, who may be able to avoid life-threatening hip fractures and other disabling injuries if they embark on well-supervised exercise regimes. Other studies have shown that weight-bearing exercise can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, the “brittle bone” condition that afflicts many women in their postmenopausal years.
Test Your Exercise IQ
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute developed this quick quiz for checking your exercise savvy.
True or False:
1. Exercise increases your energy.
2. Some exercises are better for you than others.
3. A good exercise regime takes several hours each week.
4. We need less exercise as we age.
5. The more athletic you are, the easier it is to exercise.
1. True: Exercise energizes the body by increasing metabolism. Biochemical reactions induced by exercise also help relieve stress and fight fatigue.
2. True: Choose sustained exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, running, and cycling. Activities like isometrics and yoga can tone muscles or increase flexibility. But to burn calories, increase metabolism, and provide cardiovascular benefits, include aerobic and muscle-building activities in your exercise plan.
3. False: You’ll get results with a program lasting 20 to 40 minutes, performed at least three times a week.
4. False: You need to maintain physical activity throughout your lifetime. A 70-year-old can exercise less rigorously than a 30-year-old, but both should exercise regularly for 20 to 40 minutes, at least three times a week.
5. False: Anyone can exercise, no matter how athletic. In fact, research indicates that those who benefit most from exercise are those who start at the lowest fitness levels.
How Muscle Building Helps
If you think that muscle-building exercise (weight training) is only for the bulging biceps crowd, think again: Muscle-building exercise is one of our strongest allies in the war against fat.
Here’s why: Both fat and muscle tissue burn calories just to maintain themselves. A pound of fat burns two calories a day—but a pound of muscle burns 30 to 50 calories a day. The more muscle tissue you have, the more calories you burn each day—even if your day’s most strenuous exercise is channel surfing.
On the average, muscle mass shrinks by 10 to 12 percent between the ages of 30 and 65. Middle age tends to be a time in life when people slow down and become less active, which itself depletes muscle tissue. And when muscle tissue shrinks, a vicious circle begins: Your ability to burn calories plummets—and your fat deposits grow.
Trying to reverse this process with a crash diet alone may just make matters worse: Crash diets can rob the body of muscle as well as fat. In a quick 30 pound weight loss, for example, 4.5 pounds of muscle could vanish—and that lost muscle means that your body will burn calories much more slowly than it did before. The obvious solution: You need to build—or at least maintain—muscle while you’re losing weight.
For shedding pounds and keeping them off, for maintaining your health and extending your life, for improving your looks and boosting your outlook—for all these things, exercise needs to be a regular part of your life.
Beginning an Exercise Program: When to See Your Doctor
If you’re under 35 and in good general health, you can probably begin most exercise programs without permission from your doctor—as long as you start out slowly, warm up and cool down as recommended, and build up to peak levels over a period of time.
But if you’re over 35, seriously overweight, habitually inactive, or a smoker, it’s wise to consult a physician before you begin. (Seek your doctor’s approval, too, if you’re planning to work out with weights for the first time.)
No matter what your age, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports recommends that you see your doctor before beginning an exercise program if you have any of the following:
|•||High blood pressure|
|•||A family history of strokes or heart attacks|
|•||Frequent dizzy spells|
|•||Extreme breathlessness upon minor exertion|
|•||Arthritis or other bone problems|
|•||Severe muscular, ligament, or tendon problems|
|•||Any known or suspected diseases or conditions, including back problems|
If you have any of these conditions, your doctor may recommend an exercise stress test. It’s a simple, painless procedure that takes about 30 minutes to complete. As you use a treadmill or stationary bike, your heart rate, blood pressure, and other readings will be monitored. Based on your test results, your doctor will help you design a safe and effective exercise program for your individual level of fitness.
Make Exercise An All-day Event
Here are ten good ways to get more exercise out of your daily routine:
|Hop off the bus a stop early and walk to your destination.|
|Get off the elevator a floor below yours and take the stairs.|
|Don’t drive from store to store when shopping—park far away and walk.|
|Don’t call pals in other offices at work—walk over to see them.|
|Walk to work—or walk at least part of the way.|
|Don’t order in lunch—walk out for it.|
|Never sit when you can stand, or ride when you can walk.|
|Reserve part of your lunch time for walking and/or stretching.|
|Do your own house and yard work.|
|After a while, get off the bus or elevator two stops sooner; speed up your walking.|
Consider this: For people in good health, the risks of inactivity are potentially far more dangerous than those associated with vigorous exercise.
Once you begin your program, you’ll notice sustained results within eight to twelve weeks. You’ll find you have plenty of energy to perform your daily routines—with energy in reserve to meet peak demands. You’ll have the vigor for leisure time pursuits, whether you enjoy hiking through a museum or up a rocky hillside. You’ll gain endurance and be able to walk, jog, run, or swim farther than you could before you became fit. Your muscles will be strengthened and your body will become more limber and flexible.
As you approach your “personal best” level of fitness, your body fat will decrease; your muscle mass will increase. You’ll have a leaner, more attractive body, and you’ll experience a generous boost in your self-esteem.
Exercise Those Calories Away
|Many dieters know that a 4-ounce serving of ice cream contains about 300 calories. But how many people know they can work off those calories by: dancing energetically for a half hour, cycling for three-quarters of an hour, or gardening strenuously for an hour and a quarter?
According to Dr. James Rippe, you can exercise your way to weight loss. In his book, The Exercise Exchange Program,he suggests you burn 200 to 300 calories a day doing something energetic. Choose an activity, using the guide at right. (Figures are based on men weighing 154 pounds and women weighing 128 pounds.)
Make sure your activity is fun and fits your personal level of fitness, and do it for the recommended amount of time.
What’s the Right Exercise Program for You?
You’ve made the decision to incorporate exercise into your life. Now you face a dizzying array of options from which to choose. What kind of exercise is best? How can you find the time to exercise? Should you exercise with or without supervision?
Think about your lifestyle. If the exercise program you’re considering doesn’t fit into it, it will be hard to stick with that program over time. Consistency and regularity guarantee the success of your weight loss/fitness exercise program, so choose a program that can become as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth.
Think of your new exercise plan as a package of components that you can vary according to your needs, your moods, and your individual level of fitness. If you seek maximum weight loss and health benefits, the triad of aerobics, muscle-building exercise, and stretching is essential. You can combine them in some kinds of exercise (like fitness walking and jogging), vary your exercises, and add other options for variety.
The most important component of your exercise program should be aerobic (“in the presence of oxygen”) exercise. An aerobically fit body uses oxygen efficiently during exercise; over time, aerobic exercise conditions and strengthens the body’s heart and respiratory systems so that it can function well during sustained physical activity.
Aerobics provides exercise for your heart muscle, which, like other muscles, needs a regular workout in order to maintain its strength. For your heart to receive maximum benefits from aerobic exercise, it must be worked at (or near) the upper end of a “target heart rate” (THR) range, where it is being effectively but safely stressed. For the way to calculate your THR, see the nearby box.
Start by working toward the low end of your range; build slowly over time to the higher end. If you’ve consulted a doctor before beginning your exercise program, be sure to follow his or her advice with regard to your THR.
Determining Your “THR”
Subtract your age from 220, then multiply that result by 0.6 and 0.9 to get the lower and upper limits of your Target Heart Rate range. The THR range of a 40-year-old, for example, is 180 (that’s 220 minus 40) times 0.6 and 0.9, or 108 to 162 (heartbeats per minute). Take your pulse by counting the number of heartbeats for 10 seconds; multiply by six to find your heartbeats per minute.
How Long Should Your Aerobic Workout Be? Estimates of the ideal amount of aerobic exercise have been on the increase. Past recommendations called for at least three 20-minute sessions per week. Now the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults get a total of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most—preferably all—days of the week. Moderate physical activity is any exercise that requires about as much energy as walking 2 miles in 30 minutes. Children need a total of 60 minutes of exercise each day.
To achieve optimal fitness, The American College of Sports Medicine recommends aerobic exercise three to five times per week, at 60 to 90 percent of the upper limit of your THR, for a total of 30 to 45 minutes. The workout can be continuous or intermittent, as long as each exercise segment is at least 10 minutes long. To lose weight, the recommendation rises to exercising at least five times per week.
Exercises, Benefits, and Calories Burned
Key: •—Especially Good »—Good
*Note: Calories burned are estimated for a 120 to 130 pound person; a person weighing 170 to 180 pounds burns calories about 40 percent faster. Low end estimates are for minimum efforts; high end estimates are for maximum efforts. To gain aerobic benefits for any activity, work within your Target Heart Rate (THR) (see box) and do the activity continuously for at least 20 minutes. To burn fat, continue for more than 20 minutes.
Stretching for Flexibility
The Warm Up. Five or 10 minutes of warm-up stretches will help you avoid muscle stiffness, soreness, and even injuries. Stretching also enhances your body’s flexibility, a key component of overall fitness. Finally, stretching adequately before your principal exercise prepares you mentally for the activity at hand.
When performing general warm-up stretches, hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds; do not bounce. When you feel a definite, but not painful, pulling sensation, you will know that you are stretching adequately. Make sure to stretch the muscles you’ll be exercising; runners, for example, should concentrate on leg and lower back muscles; rowers should stretch arm and upper body muscles. Stretching exercises are recommended two to three days a week to enhance performance, improve range of motion, and prevent injury.
The Cool Down. After a workout, let your heart rate return to normal while you do a low-intensity exercise, such as slow walking. Do cool-down stretches—which can be the same as your warm-up stretches—to keep blood from pooling in your legs, to prevent dizziness after a strenuous workout, and to help prevent muscle soreness. Spend at least 5 minutes cooling-down.
A Circuit Training Program For Gym or Home
This circuit workout was developed by Petra Kolber, a fitness expert from the Molly Fox Fitness Club in New York City. It is designed to condition every major muscle group within a short period of time, no matter what your level of fitness.
Before you begin to circuit train:
1. Triceps Extension: Stand with right foot in front of left, right knee slightly bent and right hand resting on thigh for support. With weight in left hand, bring arm back to about shoulder level. Return to original position; switch arms.
Beginners: No weight or 2-3 lb weights
Intermediate: 3 lb weights
Advanced: 5-8 lb weights
At the gym: Use the Triceps Extensor
2. Standing Squat: Stand with feet apart, toes out at a 45 degree angle, making sure your weight is placed on your heels. Lower body to just above knee level with knees over toes and feet flat on floor. Squeeze buttocks briefly; return to original position.
Beginners: No weights (keep hands on thigh)
Intermediate: 5-8 lb weights resting on thighs
Advanced: 5-8 lb weights resting on shoulders
At the gym: Use the Leg Press Machine
3. Standing Inner Thigh: Place your weight on the left leg, knee slightly bent. Extend the right leg forward. Leading with the right heel, squeeze the inner thigh and draw right leg across the front of the left leg as far as you can. Hold for two seconds and return to original position; switch legs.
Beginners: No weights; legs only
Intermediate: Use a medium resistance exercise band
Advanced: Use a high resistance exercise band
At the gym: Use the Adductor Machine
4. Biceps Curl: Stand with feet hip distance apart, knees relaxed, weights lightly held in hands, arms at sides with palms facing front, elbows at waist. Bend elbows, slowly bringing hands to shoulders. Hold for three seconds; return arms to original position.
Beginners: 2-3 lb weights
Intermediate: 3-5 lb weights
Advanced: 5-8 lb weights
At the gym: Biceps curl
5. Calf Raise: Standing with feet hip-distance apart and toes facing forward, raise up on toes, lifting heels from floor. Lower heels to original position.
Beginners: No weights
Intermediate: 3-5 lb weights resting on shoulders
Advanced: 5-8 lb weights resting on shoulders
At the gym: Seated or Standing Calf Raise
6. Shoulder Press: Stand with feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent. With weights in hands at shoulder height and palms facing forward, slowly extend arms (do not lock elbows) overhead; slowly lower arms to original position.
Beginners: No weights
Intermediate: 3-5 lb weights
Advanced: 5-8 lb weights
At the gym: Shoulder press
7. Push-Ups: Kneel on all fours, making sure your weight is placed just above the knees (with crossed legs) and arms slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Flex elbows and slowly lower body until chest touches the floor. Using arms and chest muscles, return to original position without locking elbows.
Beginners: Do a “standing push-up” against a wall
Intermediate: Do this version
Advanced: Classic, straight-leg push-up with weight on toes, not knees
At the gym: Chest or bench press
8. Abdominal Crunch: Lie on floor with knees bent and lower back pressed into floor, hands behind head, elbows out to sides. Gently lift shoulders off floor while tightening abdominal muscles; lower to original position.
Beginners: No weights
Intermediate: 5 lb weights resting on chest
Advanced: Bring legs, crossed at ankles, toward ceiling; as you lift shoulders, tighten abdominal muscles.
At the gym: Use the Abdominal Machine
Reprinted with permission from Weight Watcher’s® Magazine © 1994. All rights reserved.
Exercising with weights or resistance-type exercise machines such as Nautilus is essential for dieters (and everyone else), for these exercises build calorie-burning muscle. In one study, a group of people followed the same diet and exercised for 30 minutes three times a week. Half performed aerobics exclusively; the other half cycled for 15 minutes and worked on Nautilus machines for 15 minutes. After eight weeks, the aerobics-only group lost 3 pounds of fat and a half pound of muscle. But the group that combined aerobics and strength training lost 10 pounds of fat—and gained 2 pounds of muscle.
The American College of Sports Medicine, which once recommended aerobics alone for fitness, has now added muscle-building exercise (strength training) to its guidelines. They suggest two or three weekly sessions, 8 to 12 repetitions each, of 8 to 10 different exercises. One set of eight to ten repetitions is sufficient to increase strength and build muscle mass, although three sets may provide a slightly greater benefit. Lifting free weights, working out on Nautilus machines, and doing exercises like sit-ups and push-ups are good. Make sure you learn how to use any equipment properly so you can get the maximum benefit and minimize your risk of injury. As with aerobics sessions, make sure your strength-training sessions include an adequate warm-up and cool-down period.
Circuit training combines the heart and respiratory benefits of aerobics with the muscle-building and toning benefits of strength training. It differs from strength training in two ways: It uses lighter weights and more repetitions; and, unlike strength training or exercise machine workouts, where several sets of repetitions of each exercise are performed before moving on, in circuit training you move quickly from one exercise to another in sequence. Depending on your level of fitness, you repeat the circuit one or more times.
Studies show that circuit training burns more calories than strength training, and is a real energy booster. An added benefit: Those who enjoy this fast-paced workout say it helps beat boredom.
Circuit training can be done in a gym or health club, where staffers can design a program tailored to your needs (see the section on “What to Look for in a Gym or Health Club”), or in your own home (follow the program in the nearby box).
Whether you circuit-train in the gym or at home, you’re likely to gain muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance in two or three weeks; after five to eight weeks, you should begin to see an improvement in muscle tone.
The Big Four: Biking, Running, Swimming, Walking
Fitness experts call these the “Big Four,” since when it comes to aiding weight loss, aerobic conditioning, fitness, and general well-being, these activities are among the best. In addition, each is easy to learn, adaptable, relatively inexpensive, and can be done alone or with others. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy doing these exercises, they can also make up most of your fitness program. Bad weather’s no deterrent, either; today stationary cycles and treadmills take exercise indoors.
Walking. According to Casey Meyers, an expert on walking and author of two books on the subject, this most natural and basic of human activities has been recognized as a serious form of exercise only since the mid-1980’s. In his book Walking (Random House, 1992) he argues that, mile-for-mile, once you shift to a run you are using less energy (burning fewer calories) and less oxygen than if you had increased your speed while still walking. This fact, he claims, dispels the myth that running is superior to walking for weight loss and aerobic fitness.
When it comes to weight loss, whether you run a mile or walk it briskly (15 minute per mile), you’ll burn the same number of calories.
There are four levels of intensity for fitness walking.
|•||Low (Strolling): 18 to 30 minutes per mile. Start with strolling when you begin walking for fitness, especially if you’re seriously overweight or haven’t been getting exercise.|
|•||Moderate (Brisk Walking): 14 to 17 minutes per mile. Most fit walkers can handle a 15-minute-per-mile pace in comfort.|
|•||High (Aerobic Walking): 10.0 to 13.5 minutes a mile. At this intensity, walking and running overlap; at this pace, a slow run or jog begins. You are walking aerobically only when you reach your THR.|
|•||Very High (Race Walking): Less than 10.0 minutes a mile. This is considered a track and field event and has been part of the Olympics since 1908; it is a competitive sport and not a daily exercise.|
As with any other form of exercise, studies show that you’ll reap the most rewards from walking if you walk three times a week for at least 20 to 30 minutes each time, reaching your THR. Your goal, over time, should be to walk three miles every time, no matter what your pace. However, the faster your pace, the more aerobic benefits you’ll realize and the faster you’ll burn calories.
Running/Jogging. Running or jogging is arguably the most popular form of aerobic exercise in America today. Millions of runners now take to city streets, country lanes, and parks everywhere as part of their regular exercise routine.
Is there a difference between running and jogging? According to running expert Bob Glover, the only difference is the spelling. He calls everyone a runner, no matter how fast or slow their pace.
Who can run? Almost anyone in good health, with no history of chronic illness. As with any other form of exercise, however, if you’re over 35, smoke, or have any of the medical conditions listed earlier, check with your doctor before you begin.
Getting off to a running start is simple. All you need is the right footwear. Good running shoes must fit perfectly, and be light, flexible, and durable. Look for these qualities:
|•||Thick, layered sole from heel to toe|
|•||Resilient heel wedge and reinforced heel cup|
|•||Molded Achilles tendon pad|
|•||Studded rubber sole|
Before you run, do 10 minutes of stretching and warm-up exercises. Once you’re running, begin slowly, and aim to run a mile or so in 15 to 20 minutes, three to five times a week. Alternate running with brisk walking, especially when you first start your running program; work up to your THR over time.
When you can run a mile comfortably, you can increase your distance gradually—but not by more than 10 percent a week.
Running is not without risks. Injuries are common to runners—it is estimated that nearly 60 percent will suffer at least one injury serious enough to temporarily prevent training. Many injuries are caused by easily avoided conditions such as ill-fitting shoes; rocks, bumps, holes and other unfavorable road or track conditions; running farther or faster than your fitness level allows; and bad running technique. You are more likely to sustain injury if you run competitively.
Heat-related conditions such as dehydration, heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps can be very serious. They are also easily avoidable. Wear light clothing; do not run on very hot and humid days; and drink plenty of fluids during longer runs. On hot days, drink about eight ounces 15 minutes before you run, and every two miles during the run. Always include 10 minutes of cool-down exercises after your run.
If You Decide to Jog…
|For safety’s sake, keep these key points in mind.|
|•||Begin slowly, allowing yourself 15 to 20 minutes to run a mile.|
|•||Increase distance gradually-no more than 10 percent a week.|
|•||Drink plenty of fluids when running in hot weather.|
|•||On really hot days, don’t run at all.|
Biking. Nearly 100 million Americans are bikers. People ride for transportation, fun, fitness, and competition. But no matter what the reason, biking is a great aerobic conditioner and muscle-toner. It also promotes flexibility, especially of the hip and knee joints. Since it’s a non-weight-bearing exercise, biking is good for those who are overweight, inactive, or over 40.
Biking for fitness is only slightly different than biking for pleasure. Follow the general guidelines for an aerobic workout; warm up and cool down appropriately before and after biking; and bike steadily for about 30 minutes at a rate that keeps you within your THR.
There is one major drawback to biking—it can be hazardous. Though no exercise can ever claim to be “perfectly safe,” according to running enthusiast Bob Glover, more people are injured when biking than during any other aerobic activity. You can greatly reduce the risks by following these safety tips:
|•||Wear a hard-shell helmet at all times when riding. Purchase one at a reputable bike shop or sporting goods store; it should bear a safety label from the Snell Memorial FoundationTM. Learn how to adjust the helmet for a snug, safe fit.|
|•||Remember: Bikes are vehicles. Ride with the traffic. Obey all traffic signals and signs. Signal your intentions to those around you.|
|•||Make sure you are visible—the brighter, the better. Apply reflective tape to your bike, including the spokes.|
|•||Anticipate! Watch ahead for turning cars, jaywalkers, car doors that may fly open in front of you, and dogs.|
|•||Wear a whistle around your neck or equip your bike with a loud horn, buzzer, or other noise-making device.|
|•||Never listen to music through headphones while biking.|
Swimming. A water workout is great aerobic exercise. And because water packs 12 times the resistance of air, it’s ideal for toning muscles while burning fat. In water, your weight shrinks to just 10 percent of what you weigh on land. This eliminates stress on ligaments and joints, and lessens the risk of fractures, sprains, and strains. This is particularly important for the elderly or pregnant. Water-based exercises are ideal for those with arthritis, as well as for obese and sedentary people. Exercising in a swimming pool can also be a real physical and psychological stress beater.
At a hefty 600 calories a mile, swimming expends more energy than almost any other form of exercise. Experts advise using the crawl or backstroke when swimming for fitness. Be careful that water temperature is not too cold or warm—the ideal is 82 to 86 degrees; avoid eating heavily before your swim.
Water exercise also offers a wide range of workout possibilities. Special exercises have been developed for use in the water. For example, try the “water jog,” which is nothing more than jogging in water while pumping the arms. You should begin slowly, aim for a 10 minute jog, and build up over time to 20 to 30 minute sessions. For a more challenging workout, jog in water that’s chest-deep.
Aquatic equipment like boots, wings, barbells and other devices are also available for water exercises, as are flotation devices that allow non-swimmers to do water workouts.
If you swim or exercise frequently in a pool and find yourself irritated by chlorine, you can purchase eye goggles; nose clips and water-tight ear plugs are a good idea, too.
For Fun, For Variety, Try . . .
Many less traditional and some previously out-of-style forms of exercise are in vogue now. Football players study dance to improve their footwork and coordination; women are entering the boxing ring; and children and adults are taking up all forms of martial arts. Different forms of exercise can add variety and interest to your routine. You can probably find classes for most of them at your local gym, health club, adult education center, or Y.
Calisthenics, the “granddad” of modern exercise regimes, are the exercises you remember from gym class: jumping jacks, squat thrusts, toe-touches, push-ups, and sit-ups. Performed correctly, they are excellent calorie-burners, can provide aerobic conditioning, and can tone and strengthen muscles.
Use calisthenics as a warm-up to your regular routine, for a break, or even as your entire routine with an aerobics component. As with any exercise program, be sure to include a warm-up and cool-down period, and to work at your personal level of fitness, building up gradually over time.
Yoga. Whether you think of it as a way of life or as a way of exercising, yoga can reduce stress and enhance your mental well-being. On the physical side, certain yoga exercises are good for increasing flexibility and strengthening muscles. In addition to classes, and private instruction, there are a variety of books and videotapes for everyone from beginners to advanced practitioners.
Plyometrics. Remember the medicine ball? It’s making a comeback as a fun addition to your regular aerobic workout. Plyometrics, the stretching and sudden contraction of muscles as when catching a heavy ball, can build muscle strength and increase power. For more information on these exercises, including a routine for wheelchair athletes, read Plyometric Exercises by sports physiologist Dr. Donald Chu (Bittersweet Publishing Company, Livermore, CA).
For a change of pace in your aerobics workout, substitute a medicine ball for hand weights. Make sure to start out with a small, lightweight ball, about 18 inches in diameter, weighing from two to nine pounds. The weight you select should depend on your personal level of fitness; the lower the level, the lighter the ball. Medicine balls are generally available at fitness retailers.
Do’s and Dont’s for Avoiding Exercise Injuries
Do warm-up exercises for 5 to 10 minutes before you start.
Do cool-down exercises for 5 to 10 minutes at the end of sessions.
Do exercise regularly and consistently at least 30 minutes three times a week.
Do stop at once if you experience unusual discomfort.
Don’t exercise at a pace that’s too fast for you.
Don’t over do it. If you can’t speak while exercising, slow down.
Don’t double distance or duration overnight; increase gradually.
Don’t give up . . . just slow down! It may take 8 to 12 weeks to condition a body that’s been sedentary for its entire adult life. Be patient with yourself.
Dancing. Ballroom dancing. Line dancing. Square dancing. Disco dancing. When done continuously and energetically for a half-hour or more, dancing is a great form of aerobic exercise—and a fun way to meet people.
The martial arts, including karate, t’ai chi ch’uan, kung-fu, judo and aikido, vary in their efficacy as total exercise programs, but all may aid your ability to fight stress and remain calm under duress. Some, like karate, are ancient forms of self-defense; others, like t’ai chi ch’uan, are considered “soft martial arts” rather than training for protection.
These disciplines are taught in martial arts schools and many community centers. Before you sign up with a martial arts school, check its credentials and get references to make sure they have an appropriate program for you.
Boxing. You don’t have to be a fighter to consider boxing as a fitness activity. In gyms across the country, women, as well as men, are discovering that boxing is an excellent aerobic workout that conditions upper body and leg muscles. If the notion of sparring with a partner seems too aggressive, try a punching bag to absorb your energy. Check the yellow pages under “boxing instruction,” or call health clubs to find a program in your area.
When to Stop
How much exercise is too much? It all depends on you and your personal level of fitness. But, fit or not, knowing when to stop is vital in order to avoid injury.
While you should feel sweaty and slightly breathless in the middle of your aerobic workout, and be able to hear your heart pounding in your chest, you should not become dizzy or nauseous, or feel sharp pain. If you do, stop and take a rest; see your doctor before resuming exercise if symptoms continue. But if you experience:
|•||Shortness of breath|
|•||Pressure or discomfort in your chest|
|•||Bursts of very rapid, slow, or irregular heartbeat|
|•||Severe joint or muscle pain|
STOP exercising at once, and consult your doctor before going back to your program.
The Family That Exercises Together Stays Healthy Together
Fitness experts tell us that we are raising a generation of unfit children. Television, computers, video games, and other sedentary pastimes seem to be making our children more indoor-oriented than ever before. Sadly, safety concerns in many neighborhoods have also limited our ability to allow children outside for unsupervised play.
We need to make exercise as important a part of our children’s routine as their schoolwork, regular medical care, and proper nutrition. Begin introducing energetic activity in infancy—even if it’s watching you work out—so that your children develop healthy exercise habits that last. Make exercise a fun family affair, and you’ll help your children remain fit and active throughout their childhood, and beyond.
Here are some tips for making exercise part of your family’s life:
|•||Set up a room for active play. Remove anything breakable, carpet the floor, and equip the room with active toys only: blocks, balls, riding toys, etc. A great addition: an old mattress kids can jump around on. Banish from this room TVs and video games.|
|•||Check out kids’ sports programs in your area, and sign your children up as soon as they’re ready. For example, AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) welcomes children aged 5 and up and emphasizes the fun of the game rather than on winning.|
|•||Take your child with you when you exercise. If you bike or jog, put your baby in a special seat or stroller (remember baby’s bike helmet!) See if your gym has baby exercise classes—or check programs like “Gymboree,” “Mommy and Me,” or others that encourage parent-child fitness activities.|
|•||Take family vacations at activity-centered resorts—or plan family camping and hiking trips or biking excursions.|
|•||Some kids shy away from sports or competition. Build self-esteem by interesting them in individual activities—ballet, tap dancing, swimming, or horseback riding. Get private or group instruction if you can; join your child if he or she is willing.|
|•||Encourage your child to walk. If possible, walk instead of driving with your children; take walks for fun. Explore your neighborhood on foot.|
Fitness For Sale
If you’re the kind of person who needs a maximum of motivation to get on the exercise track, going it alone in your living room probably isn’t the right choice for you. Your commitment to a regular exercise program may get a needed boost if you join a gym or health club, book yourself a package of exercise classes, or hire a personal trainer.
What to Look for in a Gym or Health Club
Health clubs range from the Spartan to the luxurious, from no-frills-basic-gyms to carpeted comfort domes where everything is provided for you but the sweat. Choosing a facility is a matter of personal taste, style, and budget. Here are some tips to help ease your choice:
|•||The closer a club is to your home or office, the more frequently you’re likely to use it. Experts agree: You’ll exercise more regularly at a club with a convenient location.|
|•||Tour clubs at high-traffic time, like right after work and during lunch hours or at the time you are most likely to use the facility. Is there a wait for frequently-used stationary bikes? The aerobic benefits of circuit-training won’t be yours if you’re standing in line to use the equipment.|
|•||Is the crowd dressed for success? If your gym wear is torn sweats, you might not feel at home. Also, consider whether you want a single sex or coed gym.|
|•||If you’re not going to swim, take classes or get spa-treatments, then you don’t need a club that offers these extras. Instead, get the most for your money by selecting a simpler facility. Similarly, if you’re not going to use much of the high-tech equipment, opt for a place that offers classes and the basic fitness equipment.|
|•||See if the club is affiliated with the Association of Quality Clubs, whose members follow a uniform code of conduct, or the Association of Physical Fitness Centers; most members are clubs run by Bally that follow set guidelines.|
|•||Be sure instructors are certified by such organizations as:
|•||All instructors should be certified to perform CPR; swimming teachers should have a Water Safety Instruction Certificate.|
|•||Get all promises in writing. If equipment is to be added, or the pool is being enlarged, have it written into the contract. Have the contract include other services you may want, such as child-care. Try for a month-to-month deal; if that’s not possible, make sure that there is a termination-clause so that you can cancel your membership if you move, change jobs or become otherwise unable to use the facilities. At a minimum, clubs should have a “freeze” policy if you are unable to workout due to illness or injury.|
|•||Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the club has a satisfactory “business performance record.”|
Quick Health Club Checklist
A magazine round-up revealed that fitness classes are becoming more interesting—and exotic—than ever before. Classes like “YogaRobics,” “Bench Defense,” and “Tai-Robics” are cropping up, indicating that when it comes to exercise, east is meeting west. The idea is that the more interesting the class, the more likely you are to stick with it.
Another addition to the exercise scene is the “Step Reebok Cross-Training Circuit Work-Out,” which has made its way into health clubs across the country.
For information on interesting fitness classes, check health clubs, Y’s, and your yellow pages.
For the ultimate personal fitness regime, there’s the personal trainer. A good one will design a workout program specifically for your needs, and will put you through your paces on a regular basis.
You can choose to work out with your trainer at home or in a gym—usually, your trainer will be affiliated with one. In Washington, DC and other cities around the country, the latest fad is the trainer with a well-equipped exercise van that comes to your home or office.
Some trainers are also nutritionists, and will help you with diets and eating programs. Some will go so far as ridding your refrigerator of fat and sugar-laden taboos.
To find a trainer, check with Y’s and health clubs. Make sure a trainer is certified by one or more of the organizations listed above. Ask him or her for a list of client references, then call to check up. You can expect to pay $25 an hour and up for the services of a qualified personal trainer.
A Gym of One’s Own—A Guide to At-Home Exercise Equipment
Never have there been so many options in at-home exercise equipment—or so much high technology. In exercise bikes—the best-selling category—choices range from simple to sublime. At the low end are stationary bikes, with little more than pedals and handlebars, that start at about $200.
On the deluxe side, there’s a Virtual Reality Bike with a video screen and even a fan to simulate the wind in your hair. It retails for around $8,000.
When purchasing any piece of exercise equipment, make sure to get adequate instruction from your salesperson, especially if you’re unfamiliar with exercise techniques. Try any piece of home exercise equipment thoroughly before you buy, either at a friend’s, a gym, or in the store. Give it at least a 20 minute test to make sure you’ll be comfortable. (If that makes the retailer uncomfortable—shop elsewhere.) Read the manual before you use your new machine, and keep it handy for reference.
Cross-Country Ski Exercisers give a complete upper and lower body workout. Used correctly, they place less stress on the joints than other aerobic exercisers but they do require coordination.
Look for: Adjustable hip rest for balance; tension on poles or pulleys and height of poles or length of pulley cords should be easily adjustable. Poles or cords should allow as full a range of forward-to-back motion as possible.
Rowing Machines are second only to ski machines for a well-rounded aerobic workout. There are two main types, those with pistons and those with flywheels; the latter is closer to a real on-the-water workout in a shell.
Look for: A heavy duty steel frame; a pulley or pair of oars that moves smoothly through the full range of motion; a seat that glides easily on wheels or ball bearings; a “stop” at the back of the seat track; and an easy-to-reach resistance setting. Tall or heavy-set people may find that units low to the ground are difficult to use comfortably.
Treadmills are most effective when they push you to maintain a pace, so motorized versions are the best choice. Treadmills with adjustable incline features add to your workout’s efficiency by providing uphill exercise. Some treadmills offer a choice of laps, random, or pre-set courses, allowing you to vary your workout.
Look for: Front and side rails that help you keep your balance; make sure side rails allow arms to swing. Speed and incline controls should let you make adjustments while you’re moving on the machine. Gauges for time, distance, and pace are essential and a speedometer is good for serious workouts. The emergency on/off switch should be clearly marked and easy to reach.
Stationary Bikes. Usually, the heavier the machine, the better the quality. Make sure the model you choose is easy to pedal and has an easy-to-reach and read resistance adjustment knob.
Look for: Seat height and angle that are adjustable in the stem; and handlebar height that is adjustable in the neck; foot straps to let you use muscles as you push up as well as pull down on the pedal. Gauges should include a resistance monitor and speedometer.
Home Gyms. According to Consumer Reports (November 1993), “The attempt to produce a multi-purpose device at a price suited to the consumer market too often resulted in design compromises that could drive you from the gym bench to the sofa.” The magazine recommended joining a health club or taking aerobic exercise classes as an alternative to buying poorly-designed multi-purpose home gym equipment.
Exercise Videos—Workouts with the Stars
These days, you can exercise in your living room with everyone from Cher to Debbie Reynolds—but how do you know who’ll provide the best—and safest—workout?
Is it a good idea to select a video just because you like the celebrity? The answer, according to experts, is maybe. Peg Jordan, RN, is editor of American Fitness, the magazine of the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). She believes that few celebrities know much about exercise, but that at least some (Cher, for example) have qualified trainers designing and conducting the exercises.
Here are hints for selecting safe, enjoyable exercise videos:
|•||Check the credentials of the instructor or consultant. He or she should be certified by one or more of the organizations listed previously. Look for degrees in kinesiology or exercise science.|
|•||Choose exercise that’s suitable for your level of fitness.|
|•||Rent and try, then buy.|
|•||Look for a complete routine, with adequate warm-up and cool-down exercises. Programs should progress from beginning to more challenging levels. The instructor should regularly remind you to maintain proper form.|
|•||Make sure you’ll enjoy hearing the instructor—and the music—over and over again.|
|•||Find out whether you will need equipment and whether your exercise area will be large enough to accommodate the workout you’ve selected.|
Exercise Books: A Buyer’s Guide
Exercise/fitness books have their own large section in well-stocked book stores. Today, it seems as if almost every body part has a manual devoted to reducing or increasing its size. Unless you’re a real fitness fanatic and near-expert yourself, you’ll probably want an exercise and fitness book that’s general in its scope, rather than one that limits its concentration.
If you’re choosing one book for general reference, check the author’s credentials. Books by doctors or highly-trained exercise specialists are likely to be more informed and comprehensive than those by celebrities or media personalities.
Consider These Books . . .
|•||Health & Fitness Excellence, by Robert K. Cooper, Ph.D. (Houghton Mifflin, 1990). This clear, well-written book offers a comprehensive aerobics program with a good mix of exercises, as well as solid dietary information. Illustrated exercises are easy to follow.|
|•||ACSM Fitness Book, by the American College of Sports Medicine (Human Kinetics Publishing, 1997). This guide from the leading experts at the American College of Sports Medicine uses a sound, gentle approach to encourage exercise at all ages and levels. It includes programs for improving aerobic and muscular conditioning, as well as flexibility.|
|•||The Exercise Exchange Program, by James M. Rippe, MD and Patricia Amend (Simon & Schuster, 1993). A highly versatile, easy-to-follow program combining solid nutritional advice and exercise information. Comprehensive programs that include all the significant exercise formats (aerobic, strength training, flexibility) are clearly presented.|
|•||Walking, by Casey Meyers (Random House, 1992). A top motivational book that makes you want to get outside and walk. The author discusses all aspects of walking for fitness and provides concise guides to walking-for-fitness programs for all age groups.|
|•||The Wellness Guide to Lifelong Fitness, by Timothy P. White, Ph.D. (Random House, 1993). The author teamed up with the editors of the University of California at Berkeley’s Wellness Letter to create a comprehensive guide to physical fitness, including advice about walking, running, swimming, cycling, and strength training. More than 1,000 color photos help demonstrate the exercises.|
|But Not These:|
|•||Kathy Smith’s WalkFitTM for a Better Body by Kathy Smith (Warner Books, 1994). This book by video exercise star Kathy Smith takes a sound, though cursory, look at exercise advice, nutritional information, and walking programs. Casey Meyers’ Walking is far more interesting and motivational.|
|•||Stop the Insanity, by Susan Powter (Pocket Books, 1995). Self-made media star Powter has a great personal story to tell about losing lots of weight, but her book is filled with questionable information that could prove dangerous for some readers. For example, she dismisses as unnecessary physical exams for most women considering first-time exercise programs, and pooh-poohs drinking eight glasses of water a day—advice most fitness experts deem essential.|