Exercise: Getting Specific

As the month of March leads us into the rebirth of spring, our Beyond Health Journey will focus on the body, specifically strengthening and invigorating our bodies by getting more movement into our lives, and, if needed, losing excess weight.

Last week we talked about the importance to our health of non-exercise movement throughout the day, but we also need aerobic and resistance exercise: According to government recommendations, at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination), plus two sessions of resistance exercise. If you want to lose weight, 45 to 60 minutes a day is recommended.

Aerobic exercise involves moving the large muscle groups (as in brisk walking, biking, dancing, rowing, jogging or swimming) to get your heart rate up to a target range, defined as 220 minus your age X 0.6-0.85. So if you’re 60 years old, your target range would be 220 minus 60 = 160 X 0.6-0.85 = 96-136 beats per minute. Stop occasionally to take your pulse for 6 seconds and multiply by 10 to make sure you’re within your range.

Resistance exercise, or strength training, involves working against resistance to build muscles and endurance. Examples are hand weights, resistance bands, and squats, lunges and push-ups, and yoga postures in which your own body weight is used as resistance. Beyond Health’s favorite form of exercise is jumping on a rebounder, which combines aerobic and resistance exercise. Just be sure to choose sturdy, high-quality equipment, since jumping on a flimsy trampoline can be harmful to your back and joints. For more on the science of rebounding and on how to choose a good rebounder see Raymond Francis’ article Bouncing Magic.

Stretching exercises are important too, to warm up for and cool down from aerobics, and to retain flexibility. A personal trainer or yoga instructor can teach you the basics of good stretching, or read Judy Alter’s Surviving Exercise. As we age, it’s wise to add some balance exercises to prevent falls.

Our bodies were designed for movement, and we cannot be healthy without it. Studies show inactivity is a primary cause of many chronic diseases and contributes to the others. Even short-term, exercise decreases stress, improves sleep quality, sharpens the mind, detoxifies the cells, and pumps mood-elevating chemicals throughout the body.

If we don’t exercise, we lose brain cells and mitochondria, the factories inside our cells responsible for producing energy. Regular exercise increases mitochondria (and energy) and produces the “feel-good” energizing neurotransmitter dopamine. It also helps to preserve and build muscle mass and to maintain cognitive function as we age.

If you don’t already have a regular exercise program, decide on one today and get specific. Which exercise? What days? When will you start? How long each time? (If you’re just starting to exercise, start small; even a little is better than none, and you can increase over time.) Write down your commitment in your journal and get going! The more you do it, the more you’ll actually look forward to it!

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