Exercise is important!

Some Exercise Tips                                                                                                              by Tom Petrie                                                                                                                     February 7, 2016

Like any worthwhile endeavor, getting in shape takes place first with  a decision to get in better shape.  But where do you begin?  RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW! And come to think of it, with the unseasonably warm weather we’re experiencing in the North East, (it got up to 57 degrees F. today–not too bad for early February.  I was “forced” to run in shorts!)

Whatever the weather, you still need to make a conscious decision to get in better shape.  What do I mean exactly?  Think creatively about what you would like to get out of the only body you have!   More specifically, think about the reasons why you might want to get in better shape!  For example, does maximum fitness interest you or do you want just to become fit enough to be able to briskly walk a few miles or to be able to energetically climb a few flights of stairs without being out of breath in the process?  If you have children or grandchildren, would you like to be able to ride your bicycle with any of them?  Would you like to be fit enough so that at 7:00 pm you’re not ready to collapse for the night (& too dead tired even to do ten minutes on the stationary bicycle)?  Do you simply NOT want to be one of the forty percent of Americans who dies of heart disease?

These are not idle questions by any means!  Recent national surveys have shown the sixty percent of Americans have NO exercise program and forty-three percent of these have no intentions of changing this fact any time soon!  Of the forty percent who do exercise, only a quarter do so in a consistent manner!  In consideration of the fact that our country is not a totally “stress-free” place in which to live or work and also considering the incredible benefits of exercise in its ability to relieve or lessen the effects of stress, it seems mighty imprudent, at least to this writer, for the average person NOT to make exercise an important part of your lifestyle!  (Oh, and did I forget to mention that athletes, because their blood is so much better oxygenated, have one-quarter to one seventh the incidence of cancer of their non-athletic counterparts.  It’s true: exercise puts oxygen in your blood and cancer cells thrive in an oxygen starved or anaerobic environment!)

Sometimes you may not come up with enough good reasons to become more physically fit…at least not enough to get through that overwhelming inertia that may prevent many of you from simply getting started!  Just keep in mind that a physical activity in and of itself often creates its own reasons for its continuance:

  • “I didn’t know that exercise would help me sleep one-half hour less every evening!”
  • “I didn’t fully understand what a nicer person I could become just by doing a little exercise!”
  • “I didn’t realize that I could enjoy my daily four to five mile walks so much!”
  • “I didn’t realize that even if I’m tired, I should exercise anyway and my energy will increase surely enough!

This is NOT an article about the benefits of exercise.  That’s been written in detail elsewhere.  Actually, you’ve probably heard all about these at some point in your past!  Once you understand the benefits for you, you’ll have to decide what you are willing to give in return for this higher level of physical fitness!  Believe deep down that you are worthy of a higher level of personal health and fitness and decide to give the required time and effort towards its attainment!  And while you’re at it, make a minimum three-month commitment towards the achievement of this first health goal: greater fitness and energy.

Now you have to decide what exercise (or combination) you would enjoy most.  This may be difficult, but you must decide on something!  If you can’t decide, just use a jump rope or start walking around your block!

Determine how much time you’ll have available to devote to your program.  Be sure you don’t have conflicting goals!  For example, training for your first marathon and trying to become number one salesperson in your company, nationwide, at the same time, is unreasonable!  If you’re not certain of how much time you’d devote to an exercise program (perhaps because you currently think that most exercise is a waste of time), just begin anyway!  Sometimes the excitement generated in an activity you previously thought you’d have no time for, creates such a desire that suddenly, you make the time  (for the successful completion of whatever the exercise is that you’ve decided to do).   Am I trying to say that faith is sometimes necessary?  You better believe it!

There are four basic components of exercise: strength, endurance, flexibility and stamina.  For maximum benefit, all four should be understood to some small degree.  (Some sources list eleven, however, we’ll leave this to the exercise physiologists!)

STRENGTH, ENDURANCE, FLEXIBILITY AND STAMINA

Strength is the ability of a muscle to do “work” and is best developed by regular weight training.  It is    best done two to four days per week at home or a local fitness club.  Strength training exercises the muscles but can also exercise the heart (eg. work the body aerobically) when done in a rigorous manner with little rest between exercise “sets.”  A bodybuilder or someone who can’t (or won’t) do aerobics most probably would emphasize this area of training over any other.

Endurance refers to ones ability to do an activity, like walking, for an extended period of time.  For exam-ple, being able to walk five or ten miles doing a “March of Dimes Walkathon” takes endurance.  Running after several kids all day takes endurance.  Working on your Nordic Track, Rowing Machine or Treadmill for 30-60 minutes takes endurance.  Doing an aerobics class for 30 minutes takes endurance.  Endurance does not always imply intensity: it could, yet, it is best described as simply the ability to ‘keep on trucking.’   (As we get older, muscular strength tends to become weaker.  Because of this fact, doing resistance training of some type, e.g. weights, will enable muscles to perform for a much longer period of time, therefore giving us more endurance!)

Any admirable degree of endurance comes from performing some type of “aerobic” activity and will primarily exercise your circulatory system.  This activity is best done three to six days per week, depending upon your fitness goals, the type of body you have and your prior exercise history.  Aerobic activities should only be strenuous two to four times per week.  By strenuous, I mean that you’re getting your heart rate up into the training zone and you’re keeping it here for at least 20-30 minutes.  (Your training zone is calculated by taking 220, subtracting your age and multiplying this figure by sixty to eighty percent (most likely the higher percentage.  The more accurate way to do this is not essential to this article.)  The figure you use should be discussed with your doctor if you haven’t been on an exercise program for an extended period of time, you have heart or circulatory disease or you have diabetes.  Don’t be overly concerned, nonetheless, despite the well-known benefits of exercise, if you’re a beginner, caution is still important!

If you’re a swimmer, swimming one-quarter mile, three or four times per week would be a good aerobic exercise.  It’s also an excellent strength builder.  Bicycling is another excellent summer aerobic sport.

Flexibility is the ability of your muscles to move through a wide range of motion.  It comes from “stretching.”  The best and most permanent flexibility comes from stretching on a regular basis and especially when one follows sound principles:  You stretch to the point where there is just a slight discomfort, you hold the stretch for just 15 – 30 seconds and after stretching one muscle, you stretch the opposing muscle as well.

You should stretch before any physical activity whether it might be weight training or walking just a few miles.  While there is controversy on this point, it seems most important to stretch   after exercise than before.  Both, however, are important and neither should be neglected!

Another factor that needs to be considered to maximize your flexibility is a proper diet!  A diet excessively high in sodium, animal protein,  junk food and insufficient water intake will contribute greatly to stiff, inflexible, muscles!  If you don’t believe this, try eating a low-fat, vegetarian or near vegetarian diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and wholesome starchy vegetables, and pure filtered (or spring) water.  Do this for just thirty days and your increased flexibility will amaze you!   Most Americans do not drink enough water (and eat too many low water content foods) which also contributes to stiff, inflexible muscles.  Remember, most raw fruits and vegetables are over eighty to ninety percent water by weight.  The majority of foods eaten in America are not only low in water, they also tend to require more water from the body to be properly digested.  Most drinks, like soda and fruit drinks, are too high in natural or refined sugar and other chemicals to meaningfully satisfy our needs for water!  So, while our sense of hunger seems well developed enough, this is NOT true for our sense of thirst!  Also, many fruits are high in vitamin C, a vitamin that has a very important role in regulating our internal thermostat!  With an adequate vitamin C intake, in addition to the above recommendations, your ability to tolerate high outside temperature and humidity will amaze you!

Stamina is the ability to do a hard physical task for an extended period of time.  Any endurance activity done at a high intensity, takes stamina.  For example, racing in a long bicycle race or running in a half marathon (or more), takes stamina.  Weight lifting for over two hours (with little rest between sets!) takes stamina.  Running a 5, 10 kilometer, half-marathon or marathon race, takes stamina!

Stamina comes from consistent aerobics and adequate strength building along with good flexibility.

Stamina is crucial for athletes where just having endurance isn’t enough.  Yet, stamina is important for casual athletes as well because its attainment speaks of consistency of effort, determination and focus.

DAILY EFFORT

In order for you, the reader, to exercise on a regular basis, it is important that you, from time to time, review your “reasons” for being in better shape!  Remember, reasons are what give your goals wings to fly!  Is it to be able to keep up with your kids or would you just like to look good in a bathing suit?    It’s your call!  Also, only the beginning exerciser needs to worry about using “will-power” to get themselves moving (once they decide to get into better shape for the remaining summer months).  The physically fit person enjoys–most of the time, that is–regular exercise.  It may help to keep a log-book of your daily activities/exercises done, etc.  This will not only give you a thorough review, it will also enable you to analyze what works for you and what doesn’t.  Also, it will keep you honest, focused and attentive!  (No one will write in their log book: “Wow, my eighty-fifth day of doing no exercise!  Still thirty-pounds overweight, and tired all the time, oh well…”)

PROPER DIET

Here are a few basic thoughts about eating well to maximize the benefits you could receive from a regular exercise program.  First and foremost is that your diet should be high in fresh fruits and vegetables.  All fruits are acceptable as are all vegetables.  (Excluded, of course, would be sweet and dried fruits for diabetics and those with a major sweet tooth, citrus for those allergic to citrus and other obvious exclusions.)  These are high in cooling water and potassium whereas high protein foods tend to warm up the body, fruits and vegetables cool it down!  Dark green vegetables are extremely useful for all those on a regular exercise program.  Foods like Dandelions greens, Kale, Escarole and Swiss Chard are a few very nutritious examples.  Also nutritious and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber are beans, legumes and numerous varieties of whole grains like millet, buckwheat and oats.

Additionally nutritious foods are cold-water fish, organic beef, chicken and turkey, naturally raised eggs, dairy and cheeses and natural, wholesome snacks like fresh and dried fruits, whole wheat crackers, low fat frozen yogurt, etc.  Most cakes, cookies, pies, donuts, croissants, muffins, and bagels should be avoided because, if as is usually the case, they’re made with white flour, they would be extremely low B-vitamins, vitamin E and energy enhancing minerals.  In addition, these foods have very little fiber.  Fiber (especially ‘water-soluble’ fiber) is very important in keeping cholesterol down and in assisting in proper bowel function.  The same is true when considering rice.  Brown rice is much better than white just like whole wheat breat is much better than white bread.  A good multiple vitamin and mineral supplement could improve your general energy if you’ve not been eating well.  It should, in any case, be chosen carefully.