Fitness basics

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, and even boost your self-esteem. And you can reap these benefits regardless of your 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, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
  • Strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups at least twice a week

Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers, 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 an important component of any exercise program. Most aerobic and strength training programs inherently cause your muscles to contract and tighten.

Stretching after you exercise helps optimize the range of motion about your joints and boosts circulation.

As a general rule, stretch your major muscle groups after you exercise. In some studies, stretching right before an athletic event has been shown to decrease athletic performance, especially before activities requiring ballistic movements, jumping or running.

Overall, however, stretching after exercise can help you to optimize your joint range of motion. If you don't exercise regularly, you may want to stretch a few times a week after a brief warmup to maintain flexibility.

When you're stretching, keep it gentle. Breathe freely as you hold each stretch for around 30 seconds. 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.

Moving in sport- or activity-specific motion planes in gradually progressive speed (dynamic stretching) may be a helpful complement to static stretching and may help improve athletic performance.

Aerobic exercise

Regular aerobic exercise can help you live longer and healthier. After all, aerobic exercise can reduce health risks, keep excess pounds at bay, strengthen your heart and boost your mood.

Healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity. That doesn't have to be all at one time, though. For example, brisk walking for 30 minutes, five days a week meets the guidelines. Aerobic exercise can even be done in 10-minute blocks of time.

And recent studies report significant health benefits from interval training, which means exercising at your near-maximal intensity for short periods. For example, you can sprint for 30 seconds and then walk for 60 seconds, and repeat this several times.

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

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 bone strength, 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 12 to 15 repetitions of strength exercises of all the major muscle groups performed at least two 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 over time.

Sports nutrition

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 focuses on good eating habits all the time, but also may focus on carbohydrates. For example, athletes training for endurance events may eat more carbohydrates in their diets in the days before the event to boost their energy and 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 is important, too. To maximize your workouts, coordinate your meals, snacks and drinks. Drink fluids such as water during and between meals.

Nov. 17, 2017