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Ways to Wellness
My interest with exercise has always been an on again off again affair. Considering the results of my last cholesterol test, it’s time to develop a long term relationship.
Exercise is the central ingredient of good health. It tones the muscles, strengthens the bones, and makes the heart and lungs work better. It's also good for keeping you regular, if you know what I mean. Exercise also eases depression, aids sleep, and aids in every activity of daily life.
There are three types of exercise. Strengthening exercises build more bulky muscles. Squeezing balls, lifting weights, and doing push-ups or pull-ups are examples. These exercises are helpful in improving function in a particular body part after surgery to rebuild strength.
Stretching exercises are designed to keep you limber. Stretching should be done relatively slowly, to the point of early discomfort and just a little bit beyond.
Stretching exercised can also be therapeutic in certain situations. Any body part that you cannot move through its full, normal range of motion needs to be repeatedly stretched. This will enable you to regain motion of that part over time.
Aerobic exercise is the key to fitness. This is the most important kind of exercise. The word "aerobic" means that during the exercise period, the air that you breathe in, balances the air that you use up. During aerobic exercise, a number of body mechanisms come into play. You heart speeds up to pump larger amounts of blood. You breathe more frequently and more deeply to increase the oxygen transfer from the lungs to the blood. Your body develops increased heat and compensates by sweating to keep your temperature normal. You build endurance.
As you become more fit, the heart becomes larger and stronger and can pump more blood with each beat. The cells can take up oxygen more readily.
Aerobic exercise is important for all ages. It is never too late to begin an aerobic exercise program and to experience the dramatic benefits.
Beginning an aerobic exercise program can be difficult at first. If you have been avoiding exercise for some time, start at a lower level of physical activity that a more active person would. If you have an underlying medical condition, you should ask your doctor for advice about how to get started.
The recommendation is that all adults should accumulate 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, if not all days of the week. The key words are "accumulate" and "moderate-intensity." Accumulate means that you can do 10-15 minutes at a time and repeat that a couple of times throughout the day; for example, 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes around dinner. Moderate intensity is equivalent to feeling "warm and slightly out of breath" when you do it.
Your choice of a particular aerobic activity depends on your own desires and your present level of fitness. The activity should be one that can be graded. This means, you should be able to easily and gradually increase the effort and the duration of the exercise.
Walking, though not often considered aerobic exercise, provides very important health benefits. For maximum benefits, work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes a day most days of the week. First put in the time, then increase the effort. Walking briskly can be aerobic, but you need to push the pace quite a bit to break a sweat and get your heart rate up a bit.
Jogging, swimming, and brisk walking are appropriate for all ages. Stationary bicycles or cross-country ski machines are good for indoor activities. Actually any activity from gardening to tennis can be aerobic for a few people, just remember that aerobic exercise must be sustained for at least a 10 to 12 minute period to reap the benefits.
Patricia Duguay is the executive director of the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition.