Fitness: Exercise Your Options

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Badge Steps

1. Take an honest look at your health.

The goal of this badge is to help you understand -- and get -- the exercise you need for overall health. We'll give you the minimum weekly requirements that support your heart, bone, muscle, and mood health (and which can jump-start your efforts on personal goals like weight loss, sport performance, cholesterol management, etc.). To assess your current fitness, a good personal trainer (see Sarah's Fitness-Savvy Tips) would recommend you do the following:

  • Check in with your doctor and let her know that you're planning an exercise program. This is especially important if you haven't exercised in years, are considerably overweight, or have chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or lung problems. Your doc may suggest specific dos and don'ts based on your health issues. Ask for a blood pressure reading.
  • Get to know your heart rate. Take your pulse at rest. (With your index and middle fingers, find your pulse on the underside of your wrist. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply the number by four.) Then take your pulse after exertion. Jog in place, jump rope, or climb steps for two minutes, rest for a minute, and then take your pulse again. (We'll talk more about your target heart rate while exercising.)
  • Can you touch your toes? Do a push-up or sit-up? (How many without pause?)

Dedicate a new notebook to your fitness plan and note your answers to the above -- blood pressure, pulse rates, etc.

2. Get to know your fitness needs.

Depending on your overall fitness levels and specific health issues, the training you'll need to get into tiptop shape will most likely include:

Cardio. Thirty minutes, five to six days a week. Cardio training is often accomplished with one of the -ing words -- walking, biking, swimming, jogging -- but an activity you enjoy more (see Step 3) could provide your cardio, as long as it gets your heart rate up to 60-80 percent of your maximum. Your max heart rate is 220 minus your age. So if you're forty, that's a max heart rate of 180, and a good target workout rate would be 108-144. Take your pulse while exercising, wear a heart monitor (available at sporting goods stores), or give yourself the talk test. Sarah says you should be working (that's why it's called a workout) but still able to carry on a conversation. Regular cardio activity will not only make you look and feel better, it provides some long-term health benefits (see Give Me One Good Reason!).

Strength. Fifteen to 20 minutes, twice a week. Strength training involves resistance and includes plenty of things you can do at home (leg lifts, push-ups, ab crunches, lifting free weights, using exercise bands or balls). Strength training helps prevent weak bone breakage and osteoporosis. Bonus: Strength training activities boost your metabolism.

Flexibility. Five to 10 minutes, three to four times a week. Some activities, like yoga, build in stretching, but if your preferred activity doesn't, stretch for a few minutes before and after your cardio and strength routines. Slowly and gently stretch out your hamstrings before a walk or run, extend your arms overhead and side-to-side before lifting weights, etc. While simple to do, gentle stretching is part of a sound overall fitness routine because flexibility helps prevent everyday aches and pains and exercise-related injuries.

In your notebook, jot down your current fitness activities. Note things like the brisk 10-minute walks you take to the bus each morning -- they count! Brainstorm ways you can maximize the impact of what you already do and what activities you could add.

Evaluate your fitness strengths and needs.

Continued on page 4:  More Badge Steps


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