Most of us move around a little bit everyday. No one stays completely still unless you are physically incapacitated. The real question is: does this movement qualify as exercise? And do we move enough to benefit our health? For many the answers to both questions is NO. The actions we take to accomplish everyday tasks (walking to the car, going up and down stairs, washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking etc) are classified as “activities of daily living” Exercise is typically defined as planned physical movement over a specified period of time. Of course some people move more than others on a daily basis, but the magic happens when we have an actual plan for our movement. A plan that can be assessed and improved over time to fit our ever changing needs. Chances are if I am thinking about moving in a way that works my muscles to a point of near failure, or in a fashion that elevates my heart rate for a few minutes at a time, my fitness level will improve over time. Here I explain what I consider to be the 3 most important levels of exercise.
1. Level One: Flexibility
Flexibility, which involves stretching, increases the range of motion for our joints which will allow us to move through life with ease. This activity also decreases the risk of injury and facilitates healthy flow of blood and nutrients to our muscles. Stretching relieves tension in the body, and lowers mental stress. Furthermore, flexible person also moves with better posture, and with more confidence; these benefits can lead to improvement in an individual’s mental health. Great flexibility exercises include yoga, pilates, and tai chi. Getting regular massages or assisted stretch therapy will certainly help. Don't have time or money to do any of these? Simply setting aside 10 minutes per day to go through some basic stretching can be a great starting place for many people. These activities are very low impact, and can usually be done at any age or fitness level.
2. Level Two: Flexibility and Cardio
Adding “cardio” in addition to flexibility work takes your fitness level up a notch. “Cardio” exercise is any exercise that gets your heart rate up. This strengthens the heart muscle, which can get weak over time. A strong heart pumps blood efficiently throughout the body. Healthy blood flow not only brings oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and organs, it promotes the wellness of the veins and arteries through which the blood is pumped. All of this contributes to having healthy blood pressure, which reduces the chances of heart attack or stroke. Strokes occur in the brain so, a good cardio regimen is not just good for your ticker, it’s great for the old noggin as well! Choose a type of cardio exercise that works well with your personality, schedule, and physical ability. This makes a cardio regimen easier to maintain. Low impact options include walking outdoors or on a treadmill for 20-30 minutes. Swimming, and Zumba classes are also joint friendly cardio activities. If you can handle more of a challenge: try jogging, running, or a HIIT class. I recommend doing this type of exercise 2-3 times per week.
3. Level Three: Add Strength Training
Working your muscles through strength training has tremendous benefits. Not only do your muscles become stronger over time, so do your bones! Working with resistance can include body weight exercises (i.e. push ups, sit ups), free weights (i.e. barbells, dumbbells), or strength machines at the gym (i.e. leg press, lat pulldown). As you become stronger through consistent strength training, you will also improve in one or more of the following areas: ability to lose body fat, quality of sleep, release of human growth hormone, healthy testosterone levels, lower stress levels, and positive self image. What more reason do you need to start strength training? Please note that simply lifting weights alone will not drastically improve your fitness level. I listed it as level three assuming that you combine it with flexibility, and cardiovascular exercise. A good strength training program will include all three components. I suggest a program that is approximately 60% strength training, 20% cardio, and 20% flexibility. For example if you have about an hour for exercise try the following breakdown: 10 minutes of stretching, 10 minutes of warm-up cardio, 40 minutes of strength training. Repeat this 3 times per week. For best results, contact a fitness trainer or coach to get started.
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