When I talk about exercise in this blog, I mean cardio exercise. In addition to consistently trying to increase your physical activity, you still need cardio exercise to dramatically reduce your risk of disease.
I strongly recommend that everyone gradually work up to from thirty to forty-five minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (aerobic) exercise four times per week. Start slowly and work up to this level. The amount of time this will take depends, of course, on the level you’re starting from.
Note: Before starting any exercise program, first check with your physician to ensure that you’re able to do regular exercise. If you haven’t been physically active, start slowly with five to ten minutes, four times per week, and build up to your goal. Always warm up before you exercise.
A short time after you start an exercise program four days per week, you’ll notice you have more energy, better concentration, a greater sense of well-being, an improved mood, and better sleep.
For some, this happens very quickly, while for others, it takes a little longer. Diabetics find that their blood sugars improve with exercise. Patients with high blood pressure find that their readings get better, too.
Regular cardio exercise not only will reduce your risk of getting many common cancers, but also, if you have had breast cancer, prostate, or colon cancer, for example, a cardio exercise program may help to reduce your risk of recurrence. Cardio exercise is also a tremendous way to reduce stress.
Patients often ask what kind of cardio exercise I recommend. My overall answer is, “Whatever you think you would most enjoy.” Here, nevertheless, are some specific suggestions:
• Power walking outside or on a treadmill
• Running on a treadmill (or outside)
• Exercise bike
• Elliptical machine
• Rowing machine
• Aerobics class
• Team sports like volleyball, hockey, soccer, basketball
• Spinning class
• Stair climbing
Exercising with a friend is usually more fun and helps to keep you motivated.
Team sports are worth considering, as long as you can get sufficient playing time. Mix up your exercise, too, to find what you like best and to avoid boredom.
What should your goal be in terms of exercise intensity? There are a number of methods for measuring exercise intensity. Here are two approaches I suggest. If you do not like them, go to this site to read about another different approach.
The Huff and Puff Rule
Gradually build up to thirty to forty-five minutes of huffing and puffing such that it is challenging to talk at the same time. (But not to the point where you’re unable to talk.)
Heart Rate Target
To determine your ideal heart rate target (pending your own physician’s approval), use the following standard unisex formula:
(220 – your age) x 60%
As your fitness level improves, you can gradually increase your heart rate target to a maximum of 85%.
You can determine your heart rate by using a heart rate monitor, or by counting your pulse for ten seconds and multiplying that by six to get your rate for a full minute. You can find your pulse on the outer edge of your wrist or use the carotid pulse in your neck.
EXAMPLE: Mark is a healthy fifty-year-old man. His initial target heart rate would be: 220 – 50 = 170 170 x .6 = 102 heartbeats per minute
Mark should work up to a target heart rate of:
220 – 50 = 170 and 170 x .85 = 144 heartbeats per minute
Whether you use the simple Huff and Puff Rule or the Target Heart Rate method, work up to your exercise goal at a comfortable, sustainable pace.
If you’re not used to exercising, begin slowly. Begin by increasing your physical activity, and then move into short sessions of cardio exercise, starting at five to ten minutes, four days a week.
Gradually increase to thirty to forty-five minutes, four days per week. The first few days of exercise will be the hardest. After that, you’ll find your improvements to be exponential and the benefits to be astonishing.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you choose to exercise. Mornings work for some, while afternoons or evenings are better for others. Do what works best for you – Remember – there are seven days in a week; exercising just three or four days out of the seven will dramatically change your life. You’re likely to identify many barriers or excuses for skipping exercise. Let me offer several tools to help you power on.
Your Exercise Toolkit: Exercise Buddy
I encourage you to find someone to exercise with. Power walk with a friend, join a power walking group or a running group, play squash, or go regularly to an aerobics class or spinning class at your local community center, YMCA, or gym. The socialization and sense of community that often develops will make the exercise seem less tedious. And the other benefits – new friendships and increased energy and well-being – will motivate you to keep exercising.
Link exercise with something you enjoy and are already doing. If you like watching TV, do so while you use a treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical machine, or rowing machine for forty-five minutes. If movies are your passion, watch the first hour while you’re on your treadmill. A patient of mine liked to watch a lot of sports events on TV. He decided he would watch these events only if he was on the treadmill. Most libraries allow free downloads of audio books in MP3 format, which is great entertainment while power walking.
Assembling a collection of your favorite upbeat music can make exercise an enjoyable time to listen to music.