FitnessBy Mayo Clinic staff
Original Article: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fitness/MY00396
Starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. After all, physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight — even boost your self-esteem. And the benefits are yours for the taking, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults include aerobic exercise and strength training in their fitness plans, specifically:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week
- Strength training exercises at least twice a week
Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, and strengthen your bones and muscles. But if you haven't exercised for some time and you have health concerns, you may want to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.
When you're designing your personal fitness program, consider your fitness goals. Think about your fitness likes and dislikes, and note your personal barriers to fitness. Then consider practical strategies for keeping your fitness program on track.
Starting a fitness program is an important decision, but it doesn't have to be an overwhelming one. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you can make fitness a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime.
Stretching and flexibility
Stretching is a powerful part of any exercise program. Most aerobic and strength training programs inherently cause your muscles to contract and flex. Stretching after you exercise promotes equal balance. Stretching also increases flexibility, improves range of motion of your joints and boosts circulation. Stretching can even promote better posture and relieve stress.
As a general rule, stretch whenever you exercise. If you don't exercise regularly, you might want to stretch at least three times a week to maintain flexibility. When you're stretching, keep it gentle. Breathe freely as you hold each stretch. Try not to hold your breath. Don't bounce or hold a painful stretch. Expect to feel tension while you're stretching. If you feel pain, you've gone too far.
Regular aerobic exercise can help you live longer and healthier. After all, aerobic exercise reduces health risks, keeps excess pounds at bay, strengthens your heart and boosts your mood. Healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week. That doesn't have to be all at one time, though. Aerobic exercise can even be done in 10-minute increments. So what are you waiting for?
For many people, walking is a great choice for aerobic exercise. In fact, walking is one of the most natural forms of exercise. It's safe, it's simple — and all it takes to get started is a good pair of walking shoes and a commitment to include aerobic exercise in your daily routine.
Of course, there's more to aerobic exercise than walking. Other popular choices include swimming, bicycling and jogging. Activities such as dancing and jumping rope count, too. Get creative.
Strength training can help you tone your muscles and improve your appearance. With a regular strength training program, you can reduce your body fat, increase your lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently. Better yet, strength training doesn't have to take as long as you might think. For most people, one set of strength exercises for major muscle groups performed two to three times a week is sufficient.
Strength training can be done at home or in the gym. Free weights and weight machines are popular strength training tools, but they're not the only options. You can do strength training with inexpensive resistance tubing or even your own body weight. With proper technique, you may enjoy noticeable improvements in your strength and stamina in just a few weeks.
How much do you know about sports nutrition? What — and when — you eat can affect your performance and how you feel while you're exercising. Brushing up on sports nutrition basics can help you make the most of your exercise routine.
Sports nutrition often focuses on carbohydrates. For example, athletes training for endurance events may load up on carbohydrates in the days before the event to boost their performance. Protein for muscle repair and growth is another important aspect of sports nutrition.
Of course, sports nutrition goes beyond simply what you eat. When you eat counts, too. To maximize your workouts, coordinate your meals, snacks and drinks.