Start a Regular Exercise Program
Exercise helps keep your body healthy and your tissues and organs working properly. In keeping your body in good working order, exercise also helps ward off many diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and many others.
National health and exercise organizations recommend you do moderately intense physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most (preferably all) days of the week. Doing more vigorous exercise is also encouraged.
Your exercise program should include:
Aerobic (Cardiovascular) Exercise
In aerobic exercise, you continually move large muscles in the legs and buttocks. This action causes you to breathe more deeply and your heart to work harder to pump blood, thereby strengthening your heart and lungs.
Strength Training (Resistance) Exercise
Strength training builds lean muscle mass, which increases your physical strength and your bone mass.
- Weight lifting, using:
- Free weights
- Weight machines
- Elastic tubing
- Calisthenics, such as push ups or chin ups
Flexibility (Stretching) Exercise
Stretching increases freedom of movement and improves posture. In addition, it releases muscle tension and soreness, enhances relaxation, and reduces your risk of injury during exercise.
Major muscle groups to stretch include:
- Back muscles
- Neck muscles
- Leg muscles: hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles
- Chest muscles
- Buttocks and hip muscles
- Shoulder and arm muscles
- Stomach muscles
Stretching classes include:
- Tai chi
Here are some tips for safe stretching:
- Spend at least 5-10 minutes warming up your muscles before stretching. For example, walking gently while swinging your arms in wide circles.
- Start each stretch slowly, exhaling as you gently stretch the muscle.
- Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds.
Here are some common stretching mistakes to avoid:
- Don't bounce during a stretch.
- Don't stretch a muscle that is not warmed up.
- If a stretch hurts, ease up. Don't strain or push a muscle too far.
- Don't hold your breath while stretching.
Since brisk walking qualifies as moderately intense physical activity, that’s a place to start if you’re new to exercise. Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor about any possible medical problems you may have that would limit your exercise program.
Consider making an appointment with a certified athletic trainer to help you develop a safe, effective, and enjoyable exercise program. You can find a trainer at a local gym or through a referral from your doctor or a friend. Make sure this person understands your goals and can help you maintain an exercise program that you’ll enjoy and stick with.
Active at Any Size
NIDDK Weight-control Information Network
American Council on Exercise
Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute
Healthy Living Unit
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.sportsmed.org/tabs/Index.aspx. Accessed September 4, 2008.
Exercise: how to get started. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20061215/2095ph.html. Published December 2006. Accessed September 4, 2008.
Health and fitness tips. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/healthandfitnesstips/default.aspx. Accessed September 4, 2008.
Last reviewed May 2008 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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