Exercise is good for the heart. It increases the amount of blood your heart can pump, which lowers your heart rate.
Exercise also lowers body fat, improves blood cholesterol levels and lowers blood pressure.
Target heart rate
For exercise to be beneficial, it must be performed within the boundaries of your target heart rate, or THR.
Your THR can be determined with this formula: 220 minus your age. During exercise, heart rate should be between 60 and 85 percent of this heart rate.
It's impossible to go over your THR, PAHCS physical therapist Tim Lane said. Unless someone is having a cardiac event, like a heart attack, he or she will not go over his or her target heart rate. Athletes are usually in the upper range of their THR. They bring their heart rates up to 90 percent "easily," Lane said.
Overfat, not overweight
Instead of keeping track of pounds, measure around places where fat is stored: thighs, waist, hips, upper arms. If inches are lost, but the scale isn't registering the difference, fat has still been lost.
Fitness levels Percent body fat
The good health level is what every person's body fat should be at, just to maintain good health. Athletes have lower fat percentages because they have more muscle than a nonathlete does.
Overfat indicates too much fat. If a person's body fat percentage is at or above the overfat percent, he or she should make an effort to lose that extra fat.
Underfat is just as bad as overfat. This means that the body does not have enough fat. The body begins taking energy from muscle tissues, because there is no fat to get energy from. A person with too little body fat needs to add more fat to his or her diet.
Before beginning an exercise program, look over your health history.
Do you have heart problems? Has your doctor ever told you that you do? Are you taking medication for these problems?
Do you have frequent chest pains, dizzy spells or feel faint often?
Do you have high blood pressure? Do you take medication for it?
Do you have a bone or joint problem, like arthritis, that exercise could aggravate?
Are you over 65 and not accustomed to any exercise?
If yes was your answer to any of the above questions, consult your physician before beginning an exercise program. You will still be able to exercise, but your physician can give you specific advice for your condition.
If you answered no to all of the above questions, you're ready to start exercising.
Don't run right out to the gym or the track, though. Decide what you're going to do. Set goals for yourself. Be realistic.
Figure out what kind of exercises you're going to be doing. Include both aerobic and anaerobic exercises.
Running, walking, cycling and swimming are all examples of aerobic exercises. These are where you need to get in your THR limits. Aerobic exercises strengthen your cardiovascular system.
Anaerobic exercises are things like weight training and calisthenics, that don't get the heart rate going into the THR zone. They don't bring your heart rate up so much, but they do build muscles. These anaerobic activities complement the aerobic activities.
For example, running and walking isn't just dependent on legs. Runners and walkers use abdominal muscles, arms and backs, too. If a runner or a walker begins strength training that complements the aerobic activity, the aerobic will become easier. The runner's arms won't get so tired. The walker's back won't be so sore.
Exercise can't be an off and on activity. It has to be regular, or your workouts will be for nothing.
Think about why you are exercising? Do you feel good? Do you have more energy? Are you getting the "runner's high"? Do you feel that you need to continue exercising to keep your health up?
Chances are, you will feel better after you get into a regular exercise routine. The runner's high, which isn't limited solely to running, comes from endorphins. These are hormones that result in a natural high. Endorphins are also in chocolate, according to Sue Hecht, a dietician at PAHCS. That's why people feel good after eating chocolate.
If you have specific reasons for exercising, you'll be more likely to stick with a program.
If you have the time, and your schedule works out, try to exercise in the morning before work. Morning exercise plans are usually better-kept, because whatever comes up during the day doesn't interfere. If you're trying to meet a time or distance goal, exercise in the afternoon, around 4 p.m. You're able to go faster then.
Try to exercise with a friend or a spouse. You can encourage each other. If you don't feel like exercising, you'll probably stick to your program so you won't let your friend down.
Don't push yourself too hard. If you do, you'll probably get discouraged and quit. Arrange your exercise schedule so you have days off. If Mondays are really long days, don't expect to fit exercise in.
Give yourself a break one or two days a week. Don't take large jumps in your training. Do it gradually.
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