Maybe you're already active, or maybe you're considering starting a new activity - whatever activity you are getting ready for, there are a few basic training principles that apply to all physical activities.
Joints and muscles that are more flexible are less likely to get sore and injured. Stretching is best done when the muscles are warm and pliable which might be when you first get out of the shower or after a brief period of light exercise, the “warm up.”
- Stretching should be done slowly, never fast.
- Stretch the muscle to the point where the muscle feels like it is stretching and hold the position for 15 to 60 seconds while you feel the muscle slowly release. Do not stretch to a point that it becomes painful.
- As you hold the muscle in the stretched position, breathe deeply. With each deep breath, you may notice that the tension decreases and that you can stretch it a little further with each breath.
Conditioning exercises can improve cardiovascular performance, help with weight control, and improve muscle strength and flexibility. Exercise can also be a good stress reliever and promote a sense of well-being. It’s good to rotate through a variety of exercises, often called cross-training, as it can have even more benefit than doing just one type of conditioning exercise. Cross-training with different forms of exercise emphasizes different muscles and can help avoid repetitive stress injuries. The most important characteristic of a good workout is you’re willingness to do it. Find exercises that you enjoy and it will be a lot easier to motivate yourself to do it. Below are a few types of conditioning exercises:
Everyone knows how to walk and the only equipment required is a good pair of shoes. It is gentler on the body than running as it puts your joints through greater range of motion and can burn just as many calories.
Bicycling is gentle on the joints and decreases the stress on muscles. An exercise bicycle with upper extremity handles has the advantage of working both with the arms and core muscles.
Swimming is very gentle on the joints and is primarily an upper extremity strengthening exercise. While it is a good exercise for anyone, it can be especially valuable for people with low back pain or knee arthritis.
While running can be a good exercise for general physical conditioning, it can cause a variety of overuse problems such as plantar fasciitis, neck pain, stress fractures and other conditions. For general conditioning, it is best when combined with other exercises.
If you've not been physically active in a while, you may be wondering how to get started again. Below are answers to the most common exercise-related questions.
What types of activities should I do?
Physical activity should consist of aerobic activity or "cardio", which gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster, and muscle strength activities.
- Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.
- Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit.
Besides aerobic activity, you need to do muscle strength training two days a week. These activities should work all the major muscle groups of your body (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms). To gain health benefits, muscle-strengthening activities need to be done to the point where it's hard for you to do another repetition without help. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. Try to do eight to 12 repetitions per activity that count as one set. Try to do at least one set of muscle-strengthening activities, but to gain even more benefits, do two or three sets.
There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether it's at home or the gym. You may want to try the following:
- Lifting weights
- Working with resistance bands
- Doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (i.e., push-ups, sit-ups)
- Heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling)
How long and often should I exercise for health benefits?
There are three combinations of cardio and strength training you can do for important health benefits:
- Two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.)
- One hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
- An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
It is important to get a medical physical done prior to starting a new exercise program. For those with a chronic disease, such as a heart condition, arthritis, diabetes or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about what types and amounts of physical activity are appropriate. Remember, your doctor's goal is to help you participate safely and to keep you moving. Start by scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider