exercise, aerobic activities, strength training, balance exercises

Activity: Something for Everyone

Activity: Something for Everyone

© 2006 Wellness Clubs of America.com

Rosalie’s aunt, Helen, needed exercise badly. There was only one problem . . . she couldn’t exercise. There were many reasons. She was overweight. She had diabetes. She had arthritis. She had high blood pressure. She couldn’t afford exercise equipment. She was housebound. One day Rosalie called her and suggested an activity. She might be able to set two soup cans by her recliner. Then she could periodically pick up one in each hand and move her arms back and forth as she watched TV.

Helen thought it sounded like a pretty good idea. She didn’t have money to buy weights, but she could afford to set aside two cans of beans. She began “walking” with her arms for short periods of time. Within a few months she was walking a block to the post office in her small town. The postmaster installed a bench out front so that she could rest up for the trip home.

Before long Helen was walking around the block. Not exactly a marathon, but a tremendous step forward for an individual who had previously been unable to even get out in her own yard on a regular basis. The improvement in her quality of life was priceless.

While the words “exercise” and “activity” are to a large degree interchangeable our emotional response to them is often much different. Helen benefited when she learned something that each of us should know. Even though we can’t or don’t want to exercise we can and should be active. No one is beyond the point of being able to profit from an increased level of activity. We begin our lives as natural-born exercise addicts. If the infant or toddler is not sleeping he or she is in constant motion. Arms are being waved and legs kicked, making diaper changes challenging. Unfortunately, we seem to lose our enthusiasm for exercise as we age. Many a grandparent has become worn out trying to keep up with a two or three year old grandchild. This should not be the case for we know that those who remain physically active are the most likely to enjoy health and vitality in their latter years.

It has often been said that the benefits of exercise are so great that if it could be bottled and sold as an elixir it would bring a fortune. A partial listing of these would include greater muscle strength and endurance, enhanced energy levels, improved mood, stronger bones, lower blood pressure, better balance, a lower percentage of body fat giving one a more striking appearance, and greater alertness. People who are physically fit are at significantly lower risk for disease or death than their non-fit peers. This is true even if individuals are “overweight” by conventional standards.

Three types of activities should be considered. These are aerobic activities, strengthening activities and balance exercises. Aerobic activities are those that are done at an intensity that does not exceed the body’s ability to supply oxygen to the muscles. Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and dance are examples of activities that can provide aerobic exercise.

Formulas have been devised to guide people toward the optimum level of aerobic activity. The most common is to exercise at 65-75 % of one’s maximum heart rate, determined by subtracting one’s age from 220. For example, a forty year old would have a maximal heart rate of 220 – 40 or 180. Sixty-five percent of this would be 117 and seventy-five percent 135. Therefore the target heart rate would be between 117 and 135. As fitness improves an individual may be able to perform at 85 % of the maximum heart rate. For a forty year old this would be 153. A simplified formula that works for most people is to gradually build up to a minimum heart rate of 120 and a maximum heart rate of 200 minus one’s age. Using this formula a forty year old’s exercise pulse range would be from 120 to 160 beats per minute.

I dislike taking my pulse while walking and am not fond of formulas and calculations, however. I simply listen to what my body is telling me, walking at a pace that I find causes me to increase my breathing and break a light sweat, but at which I can still carry on a conversation or count out loud to 10 periodically. An aerobic pace is one that an individual should be able to maintain for 30 minutes without difficulty, and at which he or she does not feel stiff the next day like a rusty tin man or woman who was left out in the rain.

Aerobic activities should be performed for 20 to 30 minutes 3 to 5 times each week. Strength training should also be done 2 to 3 times weekly. Weight lifting, resistance machines, push-ups, sit-ups and similar exercises are common examples of strength training activities, but making beds and pushing a vacuum or raking leaves, hoeing a garden or cutting limbs are also strength building activities.

A regimen in which aerobic activities and strength training activities are done on alternate days is ideal for most people. Time constraints may prevent this, however. Busy people may choose to combine these two aspects of exercise. Increasing the number of repetitions and moving smoothly from one strengthening exercise to the next can result in an aerobic workout while doing strength training.

The third category of activities that should be performed regularly are balance exercises. These can be as simple as balancing on one foot for a minute then balancing on the other. If one is unable to stand on one foot, place the feet as close together as possible and attempt to maintain balance. Done regularly, activities of this type can markedly reduce the risk of falling and sustaining an injury.

While more exercise is better, even a little activity is good. Incorporating simple things into your daily routine will add to your well-being and decrease your risk of illness.  Some examples are parking well away from a building rather than next to the door, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, and making your bed each morning.

One bit of good news about exercise or activity is that it is never too late to start. Another is that benefits are often seen in a short period of time. The keys are to identify a starting point that is right for you, determine what activities you most enjoy and are willing to perform on a long term consistent basis, and establish a time to do them that best fits your schedule.

Perhaps I should point out that while it is never too late to start and activity program it is also never too early to begin. The arrival of spring is a great time to make a commitment to integrate regular physical activity into your routine. It is far easier to maintain the strength, endurance and balance you currently possess than to recover it once it has been lost. You may be thinking, “That makes sense. I’m going to get started on an exercise regimen someday.” You will never have a better opportunity to begin than you have today. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for someday to arrive. It never will.

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