Fitness basics

Starting a fitness program may be one of the best things for health. Physical activity can lower the risk of diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. Exercise can improve balance and the ability to move smoothly, called coordination. It can help with weight loss and boost self-esteem.

The rewards of exercise are for everyone, no matter the age, sex or physical ability.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:

  • Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. Or get at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. You also can get an equal combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Aim to spread out this exercise over a few days or more in a week.

    For even greater health benefit the guidelines suggest getting 300 minutes a week or more of moderate aerobic activity. Exercising this much may help with weight loss or keeping off lost weight. But even small amounts of physical activity can be helpful. Being active for short periods of time during the day can add up and have health benefits.

  • Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. One set of each exercise is enough for health and fitness benefits. Use a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Regular exercise can help you control your weight. It can lower your risk of heart disease and some cancers. And it can make your bones and muscles stronger.

If you haven't exercised for a while and you have health concerns, you might want to talk to your health care professional before starting a new fitness routine.

When making your exercise plan, keep your fitness goals in mind. Think about what you like and don't like. Think about what keeps you from exercising. Then find ways to keep your fitness program on track.

Starting a fitness program doesn't have to overwhelm you. Start slowly and build up over time. By planning and pacing yourself, you can make fitness a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime.

Stretching and flexibility

Stretching is an important part of any exercise program. Aerobic and strength training programs work your heart and muscles. Stretching helps your joints move through their full range of motion. This helps them move more freely and helps the muscles work better.

Stretch your major muscle groups after you exercise. This is when your muscles are warmed up. Warmed-up muscles stretch easier and with less injury risk.

If you don't exercise regularly, you may want to stretch a few times a week after a brief warmup to keep your joints moving through their full range of motion.

When you're stretching, be gentle. Breathe freely as you hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. Try not to hold your breath. Don't bounce or hold a stretch that hurts. Expect to feel your muscles get tighter during the stretch. If you feel pain, you've stretched too far.

Doing slow, gentle movements that are like those you use in your physical activity or sport might be helpful. For instance, do practice swings before you play golf or practice serves before you play tennis. This puts your muscles and joints through a range of motion that can get them ready for the workout. This is called dynamic stretching.

Aerobic exercise

Exercise that raises your heart rate, called aerobic exercise, can help you live longer and be healthier. Aerobic exercise can lower health risks, keep off extra pounds, make your heart stronger and lift your mood. It also can lower the risk of death from all causes.

Guidelines recommend that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. Or get an equal combination of moderate and vigorous activity. For even more health benefits, the guidelines suggest getting at least 300 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity.

That doesn't have to be all at one time, though. For instance, brisk walking for 30 minutes, five days a week meets the guidelines. Aerobic exercise can be done in short blocks of time, such as a few walk breaks spread throughout the day. Any activity is better than none at all.

Aim to spend less time sitting, too. The more hours you sit each day, the higher your risk of metabolic problems. Sitting too much can negatively affect your health and longevity.

Recent studies report big health benefits from exercising harder for short periods, called interval training. For instance, run or walk as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Then walk at an easy pace for 1 to 2 minutes. Do this many times.

For many people, walking is a great choice for aerobic exercise. Walking is one of the most natural forms of exercise. It's safe and simple. All it takes to get started is a good pair of walking shoes and a promise to yourself to include aerobic exercise in your life every day.

Of course, there are other aerobic exercises you can do. Other popular choices include swimming, biking and jogging. Activities such as dancing and jumping rope count, too. Get creative and get moving.

Strength training

Strength training can help you tone your muscles and look better. With a regular strength training program, you can lower your body fat, increase bone strength, increase your lean muscle mass and burn calories more easily.

Strength training doesn't have to take as long as you might think. Do strength exercises for all the major muscle groups at least two times a week. But don't exercise the same muscle group two days in a row.

Major muscle groups include the shoulders, arms, chest, abdomen, back, hips and legs. Aim to do one set of each exercise. Use a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

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 resistance bands, which don't cost much. Or you can even use your own body weight. Proper form is important to prevent injury and gain the most reward. With proper form, you'll see your strength and how long you can exercise, called stamina, get better over time.

Sports nutrition

How much do you know about sports nutrition? What and when you eat can affect how well you do and how you feel while you're exercising. Learning about sports nutrition basics can help you make the most of your exercise routine.

Sports nutrition focuses on good eating habits all the time. But sports nutrition also might focus on foods that can break down in the body to make energy, called carbohydrates.

For example, athletes training for long events may eat more carbohydrates in their diets in the days before the event. This boosts their energy and helps them do well. Having protein is needed after a workout for muscle repair and growth.

Of course, sports nutrition goes beyond simply what you eat. When you eat is important, too. Don't eat heavily right before a workout. Think about how hard and long you plan to exercise when choosing what to eat. Drink fluids such as water throughout the day. Drink more when working out hard or long or in hot weather.

March 29, 2024