Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Exercise: How To Get
Why should I exercise?
Increased physical activity can lead to a longer
life and improved health. Exercise helps prevent heart disease and many other
problems. Exercise builds strength, gives you more energy and can help you
reduce stress. It is also a good way to curb your appetite and burn
Increased physical activity can benefit almost
everyone. Most people can begin gradual, moderate exercise on their own. If you
think there is a reason you may not be able to exercise safely, talk with your
doctor before beginning a new exercise program. In particular, your doctor needs
to know if you have heart trouble, high blood pressure or arthritis, or if you
often feel dizzy or have chest pains.
What kind of exercise should I
Exercises that increase your heart rate and move
large muscles (such as the muscles in your legs and arms) are best. Choose an
activity that you enjoy and that you can start slowly and increase gradually as
you become used to it. Walking is very popular and does not require special
equipment. Other good exercises include swimming, biking, jogging and dancing.
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking instead of driving may also
be a good way to start being more active.
How long should I exercise?
Start off exercising 3 or more times a week for
20 minutes or more, and work up to at least 30 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week.
This can include several short bouts of activity in a day. Exercising during a
lunch break or on your way to do errands may help you add physical activity to a
busy schedule. Exercising with a friend or a family member can help make it fun,
and having a partner to encourage you can help you stick to it.
Is there anything I should do before
and after I exercise?
You should start an exercise session with a
gradual warm-up period. During this time (about 5 to 10 minutes), you should
slowly stretch your muscles first, and then gradually increase your level of
activity. For example, begin walking slowly and then pick up the pace.
After you are finished exercising, cool down for
about 5 to 10 minutes. Again, stretch your muscles and let your heart rate slow
down gradually. You can use the same stretches as in the warm-up period.
A number of warm-up and cool-down stretching
exercises for your legs are shown at the end of this handout. If you are going
to exercise your upper body, be sure to use stretching exercises for your arms,
shoulders, chest and back.
How hard do I have to exercise?
Even small amounts of exercise are better than
none at all. Start with an activity you can do comfortably. As you become more
used to exercising, try to keep your heart rate at about 60 to 85% of your
"maximum heart rate." To figure out your target heart rate, subtract your age in
years from 220 (which gives your maximum heart rate), and then multiply that
number by 0.60 or 0.85. For example, if you are 40 years old, you would subtract
40 from 220, which would give you 180 (220 - 40=180). Then you would multiply
this number by either 0.60 or 0.85, which would give you 108 or 153 (180 x
0.60=108 and 180 x 0.85=153).
When you first start your exercise program, you
may want to use the lower number (0.60) to calculate your target heart rate.
Then, as your conditioning gradually increases, you may want to use the higher
number (0.85) to calculate your target heart rate. Check your pulse by gently
resting 2 fingers on the side of your neck and counting the beats for 1 minute.
Use a watch with a second hand to time the minute.
How do I avoid injuring myself?
The safest way to keep from injuring yourself
during exercise is to avoid trying to do too much too soon. Start with an
activity that is fairly easy for you, such as walking. Do it for a few minutes a
day or several times a day. Then slowly increase the time and level of activity.
For example, increase how fast you walk over several weeks. If you feel tired or
sore, ease up somewhat on the level of exercise, or take a day off to rest. Try
not to give up entirely even if you don't feel great right away! Talk with your
doctor if you have questions or think you have injured yourself seriously.
What about strength training?
Most kinds of exercise will help both your heart
and your other muscles. Resistance training is exercise that develops the
strength and endurance of large muscle groups. Weight lifting is an example of
this type of exercise. Exercise machines can also provide resistance training.
Your doctor or a trainer at a gym can give you more information about exercising
safely with weights or machines.
Warm-up and cool-down stretches
Face a wall, standing about 2 feet away
from it. Keeping your heels flat and your back straight, lean forward slowly and
press your hands and forehead to the wall. You should feel stretching in the
area above your heels (this area is shaded in the picture). Hold the stretch for
20 seconds and then relax. Repeat.
Face a wall, standing about 1 foot away
from it. Support yourself by placing your right hand against the wall. Raise
your right leg behind you and grab your foot with your left hand. Gently pull
your heel up toward your buttock, stretching the muscles in the front of your
right leg for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch with your left leg.
Squat down and put both hands on the
floor in front of you. Stretch your left leg straight out behind you. Keep your
right foot flat on the floor and lean forward with your chest into your right
knee, then gradually shift weight back to your left leg, keeping it as straight
as possible. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch with your right
leg behind you.
Lie down with your back flat on the floor
and both knees bent. Your feet should be flat on the floor, about 6 inches
apart. Bend your right knee up to your chest and grab your right thigh with both
hands behind your knee. Gradually straighten your right leg, feeling gentle
stretching in the back of your leg. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat the
stretch with your left leg.