Blogs > Simply Fit

Simply Fit, by Cindy Haskin-Popp, will help you make physical activity a part of everyday life. The health benefits of regular exercise and overall daily physical activity will be discussed. Fun, practical and easy-to-follow tips on an exercise program will be shared, as will the most current research. Fitness tips for families and seniors, on fitness centers and on buying proper and affordable equipment will be regularly given. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

Minutes Matter for Weight Management

     If you have been religiously exercising the recommended minimum of 150 minutes per week but haven't noticed a significant change in your weight, there may be a reason why.   Recent findings support that more minutes of exercise per week may be needed for those interested in long-term weight loss.  In the February 2009 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise the American College of Sport's Medicine (ACSM), the world's largest organization for sports medicine and exercise science, published its updated Position Stand  "Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults".  This position stand updates their 2001 guidelines.  The latest stand makes a point to discern between the amount of exercise needed to maintain body weight, to lose weight, and to prevent weight regain after weight loss.  
     The role of physical activity in weight management is important considering that more than 66% of the American adult population is overweight.  There is sufficient evidence that weight loss lowers risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and hypertension.  Here is a breakdown of what you need to know regarding the major points outlined in the Position Stand.

To Prevent Weight Gain:
     A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or an energy expenditure of 1200 to 2000 calories per week is needed.  This level of activity may result in minimal levels of weight loss.  Improvements in risk factors for chronic disease can also be achieved at these levels of activity.

To Lose Weight:
    A minimum of 250-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or an energy expenditure of approximately 2000 calories per week is needed for clinically significant weight loss.

To Prevent Weight Regain after Weight Loss:
     Some studies suggest that 200-300 minutes per week is needed and most studies suggest that there is a dose response with "more being better".  However, the studies are flawed and more research is needed.

Other Important Points Outlined in the Position Stand:
     Physical activity combined with dietary modifications increases the amount of weight lost compared to that lost from diet restriction alone.  However, the role of physical activity is reduced if dietary restrictions are severe.
     It is suggested that overweight and obese individuals participate in more than 250 minutes of exercise per week for greater losses in body weight and to prevent weight regain.
     A weight loss of as little as 2-3% is associated with improvements in risk factors for chronic diseases (e.g. decreased blood pressure and better glucose tolerance).
     Resistance training should be added to the exercise regimen to increase lean body tissue (muscle and bone) and to further improve health.
     What if you're not at the recommended threshold yet?  Don't get discouraged.  The point is that minutes matter whether you are capable of getting in 10 or 40.  The more active you are the better.  Think of it in terms of "punching in" on the time clock at work.  Few of us would complain if we were able to "punch in" an extra ten minutes because we would profit, even if by a small amount.  As your fitness level improves you can increase the duration of your exercise sessions to accumulate the recommended 250-300 minutes per week needed for weight loss.

*Don't forget to cast your vote for your biggest barrier to exercise in the poll on my home page!

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Exercise: Don't Leave Home Without It!

Going on vacation?  Traveling for work?  A quest away from home doesn't mean an end to your workouts.  In fact, exercising in a new environment can help break the monotony of your routine.  Then, upon returning home you can approach your old routine with a renewed spirit.  Here are 10 tips to maintain fitness while on the road.

1.  Pack portable exercise equipment such as a jump rope, resistance bands and/or tubing, exercise DVDs, or videos to use in your hotel room
2.  Download audio workouts onto your MP3 player
3.  Look for a fitness center near the airport to exercise during lay overs
4.  Walk up and down airport stairs while waiting for your flight
5.  Book a room at a hotel with an exercise facility or swimming pool
6.  Find a park, mall or downtown near the hotel for walks
7.  Look for a fitness club that offers one day passes for non-members near the hotel
8.  Check with your local fitness club to see if they offer reciprocal memberships for facilities in other states
9.  Perform calisthenics (e.g. sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, arm circles, etc.) and stretching exercises in hotel room
10.  Schedule a walking or biking tour of area visiting

*Don't forget to cast your vote for your biggest barrier to exercise in the poll on my home page!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Voice Your Opinion!

    What is your biggest barrier to exercise?  I want to hear.  Cast your vote in the poll found on my home page.  Check back to see how many others feel the same as you.  When the votes are in, I will provide you with tips on how you can overcome your biggest barrier to exercise.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Getting into Action: Part Two of a Two Part Series

     You have decided to improve your physical fitness.   You set the goal to increase physical activity.  Now you need to devise a plan to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle.  This is step three (refer to posting Getting into Action: Part One...).  Your objective here is to not only make exercise a priority, but a ritual.  
     To make exercise part of your everyday routine, you need to identify suitable times during the day for you to exercise.  Dawn of Northville, Michigan has done this.  "I am a morning person, so I like to get going with my workout first thing...It is a great sense of accomplishment to start my day with a good workout", says Dawn.
     Once a time slot is identified, schedule your exercise session as you would a doctor's appointment.  Entering the exercise time into your calendar helps to ensure that you will stick to your commitment to improve physical fitness.  Dawn uses a similar method to avoid time conflicts.  "I do try to schedule commitments in the afternoon so I can get my workout in", remarks Dawn.  Because daily life does involve the unexpected, it is advantageous to select at least two different times during the day that exercise can fit into your schedule.  This will provide you with an alternative if you can't exercise at your scheduled time.
     Step four of your exercise plan is to identify the specific barriers to exercise that you face and then develop a plan to overcome these obstacles.  Virginia of South Portland, Maine has devised a plan to overcome one of her barriers. She is a mother of a 4 year-old and her husband works long hours, making it a challenge to exercise.  To overcome this obstacle, she has made allowances in her budget for a babysitter while she exercises.
     Develop plans in advance for special occasions such as vacations and holidays that may interfere with your regular exercise routine.  Write a list of options for fitting in exercise during these times.  Even if it means shortening the duration of your workout or opting for a different form of exercise.  For example, if you know that you will be traveling out of town, find a hotel that has an exercise room.  If such facilities are not available, then look for a park, mall, or downtown area where you could walk for exercise.  Being prepared for these occasions before they occur will help to keep the interruption temporary and not a permanent end to your exercise efforts.  
     The exercise plan should help eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed when initiating an exercise program.  Re-evaluate your plan after six weeks of program initiation.  At this time, make a list of new goals, strategies to achieve those goals and methods to overcome new barriers to exercise encountered along the way.  Repeat this process every three months thereafter.
     *Recommended reading:  ACSM Fitness Book: A Proven Step by Step Program from the Experts, Third Edition

Note:  A physician's approval should be obtained prior to beginning an exercise program, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Family Fun Weekend "Workouts"

     Make family time active time this weekend.  Incorporating exercise into a healthy family lifestyle does not require you to possess certain athletic skills and abilities.  Simple, good old-fashioned schoolyard games can promote balance, agility, bone strength, muscular endurance, and muscular strength in both you and your children.  Some games can even elevate your heart rate enough to obtain cardiovascular benefits.  A goal of family physical activity time is to make it enjoyable so that your child develops positive feelings toward exercise.  So go ahead and get in touch with your inner child this weekend and relive some of these childhood games with your children.

Follow the Leader
Fitness benefits:  has potential to develop balance, agility, power, bone strength, muscular endurance and strength, and the cardiovascular system based on exercise chosen by the leader
How to play:  Players take turns leading others through a series of exercises (jumping, skipping, marching, lunges, running, arm circles, etc.).

Fitness benefits:  promotes balance and agility;  strengthens bones and muscles of the lower body
Supplies needed:  chalk if playing outdoors, painter's tape if playing indoors; small stone 
Set-up:  Start by making the hopscotch court either on a sidewalk or basement floor.  The court has eight squares and one semi-circle.  The first two squares are single squares with the second square centered above the first.  The third and fourth squares are side-by-side centered above the second square.  The fifth square is single and is centered above the third and fourth squares.  The sixth and seventh squares are side-by-side and centered about the fifth square.  The eighth square is single and centered above the sixth and seventh squares.  The semi-circle goes on top of the eighth square.  Label the squares 1 - 8 starting with the first box outlined.
How to play:  The first player tosses the stone into square one.  If the stone falls outside of the square then the player loses his turn.  If the stone falls within the lines of the box, the player proceeds through the course hopping on one foot for the single squares and a straddle position for the side-by-side squares.  The player does not hop in the square with the stone.  The object is to make it through the course and back without hopping on a line or losing balance.  On the way back, the player picks up the stone.  If the player completes the course then he tosses the stone into the next numbered box.  The process is repeated until the player either completes every square or throws the stone outside the box, hops on a line or loses his balance.  If a player loses a turn, he starts his next turn where he left off.  The winner is the first person who completes a full course (hops through all eight squares).

Musical Chairs
Fitness benefits:  promotes balance and agility; develops reflexes and reaction time, and can elevate heart rate to beneficial levels
Supplies needed:  chairs and a music player
Set-up:  Chairs are lined up in a row.  Use one less chair than the number of players.  
How to play:  One person plays the music while the other players walk around the row of chairs.  When the person in charge of the music turns it off, players must find a chair to sit in.  The player left standing is out and a chair is removed.  This pattern is repeated until only one player claims the last remaining chair.

     Exercise doesn't have to be of the traditional type to get benefits.  Participating in childhood games is a fun way to "sneak" physical activity into your child's life.  Other games to consider include four square, tag, and duck, duck, goose.  Be creative and keep an open mind.  If you make physical activity enjoyable for your child now then he/she will be more likely to pursue an active lifestyle as an adult.
Do you and your family have a favorite way to exercise together?  I would like to hear about it.  Please post a comment below.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Getting into Action: Part One of a Two Part Series

     Before you put on the gym shoes and start exercising, you need to devise an exercise plan.  The first step of the plan should be to make a decision to change.  In this step you need to recognize and acknowledge that a change needs to be made and then make the decision to take action.  
     To aid you in the decision making process do a self-assessment.  Ask yourself questions that will increase your awareness of your current physical condition and needs.  Be honest.  Do you need to lose weight?  Do you wish you had more energy?  Are you at risk for developing a chronic health condition such as diabetes or heart disease?  Carrie of Sterling Heights, Michigan accomplished this first step when she realized the health benefits obtained from weight loss.  She then decided to recommit to an exercise routine.
     Making a decision to change not only requires you to recognize areas that need improvement, but also requires a willingness to incorporate strategies that aid in the achievement of your fitness goals.  You need to take an active role to ensure successful adherence in the long run.  For example, if your goal is to lose weight, then commit to scheduling at least 30 minutes of exercise into your day (refer to my posting "Exercise Recommendations: An Overview" for government guidelines on physical activity).
     The second step of the exercise plan is to set fitness goals.  The goals you choose should be ones that you can reasonably accomplish.  In addition, you have to be willing to make the sacrifices and effort needed to accomplish these goals.  Your goals should be challenging, yet attainable.  Setting small, achievable goals will increase your chances of sticking with your program.  For example, if you have never exercised, setting a goal to include a 10-minute brisk walk during the day is more realistic than expecting to run five miles on your first day.  
     Set measurable goals, especially if you are exercising for the first time.  For instance, challenge yourself to get in three exercise sessions per week initially.  As this becomes routine add another day until daily exercise is automatic.  A goal that can be measured allows you to track your progress and to see that your attempt at change is successful.  
     When setting your goals allow for some flexibility.  That is, once you start working toward your goal, do not get discouraged if you encounter setbacks.  It may be that you need to reassess how realistic the goal was in the first place.  Although it may be tempting to quit altogether remind yourself that the achievement of fitness is a lifelong journey.  Even if it means some days you have to take smaller steps toward your goal than on others.

Note:  A physician's approval should be obtained prior to beginning an exercise program, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Trim the Cost of Exercise While Still Trimming Your Waistline

     Can't afford the cost of a gym membership but need an organized program to keep you accountable?  Try online fitness programs.  These programs provide you with ideas for exercise routines, online discussion forums, methods for tracking progress, and incentives to continue exercising such as certificates of accomplishment.  
     Two programs to consider are The President's Challenge offered by The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and Choose to Move offered by The American Heart Association.  Both offer free services and are outlined below. 

The President's Challenge:
 1.  Offers a series of individual and group based programs for youth, adults and older adults.
2.  Categorizes programs based on fitness level
3.  Provides downloadable and/or online activity log to record progress
4.  Gives awards as an incentive for fitness goals achieved (for a fee)

Choose to Move - A Free Physical Activity Program for Women:
1.  Offers a step-by-step 12 week program for women
2.  Provides tips on increasing physical activity and on selecting and eating healthful foods
3.  Offers online discussion/support groups
4.  Sends weekly motivational emails and reminders to help you stay on course
5.  Opportunity to join the Go Red for Women movement which sends out a monthly e-newsletter with health advice, recipes and announcements of special events and promotions

     These online programs provide a good alternative when money is tight.  Other options to consider include mall walking (refer to my February 14th posting On the Move With Mall Walking), initiating your own neighborhood walking club, and recruiting family and friends to join you in your efforts to exercise.  Regular exercise is important to help you relieve stress and maintain your physical health during these trying economic times.

Have you tried an online fitness program yourself or plan on trying one of those listed above?  If so, I would like to hear about your experience.  Post me a comment below. 

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.



A Journey

     What does it mean to be physically "fit"?  This question may evoke various images for different people.  Some may envision a marathon runner, others a body builder, and still others gold-medaled Olympians.  The Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word "fit" as "in good physical condition".
     All of these references place an emphasis on the achievement of fitness as an end result - not as a process.  However, it is important to recognize that acquiring good physical fitness really is a process.  It is a journey that, with a little patience and perseverance, will lead to a lifetime of better health.
     Starting and maintaining an exercise program may seem intimidating and overwhelming at first, especially since it is a process that undoubtedly and inherently contains barriers that must be overcome.  I experienced these emotions about 4 1/2 years ago when my youngest child was 3.  Although I had been an avid exerciser prior to becoming a mother, sleep deprivation and my husband's busy work schedule kept my efforts sporadic at best.  Worried that I wouldn't be able to physically tolerate a longer exercise session, I started with 18-minute bouts, about twice a day on the stationary bike.  Over time I was able to accomplish one exercise session of a longer duration per day.  By taking a step-by-step approach to increasing activity levels, the exercise task will seem less daunting.
     It is inevitable that a situation will arise that challenges your ability to exercise on a given day.  You need to recognize and acknowledge that setbacks can and will occur.  With this understanding you can devise a plan to keep them at a minimum and minor in magnitude when they do arise.  This, in turn, will allow you to successfully continue your pursuit of better health through participation in regular physical activity.  For instance, Sonyia Pfeiffer of Warrren said that the cold weather and lack of indoor exercise equipment have kept her from exercise.  To overcome these obstacles Pfeiffer states "I'm getting my dad's exercise bike to use".
     Do not let setbacks keep you from achieving your goal of improved fitness.  Remember, acquiring good physical fitness is a process - a journey that is lifelong.  Each day that you incorporate physical activity into your life you will be a step closer to improved fitness and better over-all health.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Exercise Recommendations: An Overview

     Small increases in your activity level throughout the day can have a significant impact on your health.  This is the premise of the latest guidelines for physical activity.  In October 2008, the federal government released exercise recommendations to the public for the first time in history.  These recommendations were developed based on the understanding that increases in physical activity levels during the day will result in long-term heath benefits.  The fitness goals of the guidelines can be met through a combination of activities of daily living (e.g. housework such as vacuuming) and aerobic exercise (e.g. brisk walking).
     The government offers separate exercise recommendations based on age.  The guidelines are as follows:

Youth 6-17 years:
1.  60 minutes or more of daily physical activity that includes aerobic exercise performed at a moderate- to vigorous-intensity
2.  3 days or more a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
3.  3 days or more a week of muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises

Adults 18-64 years and adults 65 years and older:
1.  150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, or
2.  75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or
3.  A combination of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week, and
4.  2 days or more of 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions of moderate- or high-intensity strength-training exercises of the major muscle groups 

Additional recommendations for adults 65 years and older:
1.  If chronic health conditions are present, exercise should be performed based on what current physical limitations and abilities allow
2.  Balance exercises should be performed to prevent risk of falling
3.  Intensity level attempted is based on fitness level
4.  Acquire an understanding of how chronic health conditions may affect ability to safely exercise

     If you are just starting an exercise program or you have limited time during the day, health benefits can still be achieved if the daily exercise bouts are broken down into 10 minute segments spread throughout the day for a total of 30 minutes or more.  When fitness improves or time allows, you can increase the duration of the exercise segments toward the goal of one session of at least 30 minutes.  It should be noted that additional health benefits can be achieved by both the adult and older adult populations by increasing activity levels to 300 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercises per week; or, 150 minutes or more of vigorous-intensity activities per week.  Increasing the intensity and/or frequency of physical activity as time goes on will result in greater health benefits as well.
     Below are some sample workouts based on age as recommended by the federal government's 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

Youth:  Children differ naturally in their patterns of movement from adults.  They tend to engage in intermittent exercise alternating it with short periods of rest.  Therefore, any amount of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity performed throughout the day counts toward the recommendations.
Sample activity for a day:  Jump rope for 10 minutes, climb on play-structure for 15 minutes, play tag for 20 minutes, ride bike for 15 minutes

Adolescents:  Combining exercise with social activities will help to promote fitness while fostering friendships in this age group.
Sample activity for a day:  Brisk walk with friends for 15 minutes, dancing with friends for 45 minutes

Adults and older adults:
Sample activity for a day:  Warm-up for 5 minutes at a slow walk, Briskly walk for 30 minutes, cool-down for 5 minutes at a slow walk, perform resistance band exercises for strength training

     For more examples of exercise sessions and/or for more information about the federal government's guidelines please visit

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

On the Move With Mall Walking

     It is about an hour before the mall opens.  It is anything but quiet and still.  Moms are here with their children in strollers, husbands and wives have come together, friends congregate, and small groups are forming.  Is one of the stores having a to-die-for sale today?  No.  These individuals are here to exercise.  They are mall walkers.
     I have come this morning to see for myself what it is all about.  Upon finding my place amongst the rest of the walkers trekking around the mall, I quickly found the atmosphere to be energizing.  Music was playing overhead for our enjoyment.  Walkers were smiling and waving at each other as they crossed paths for the third or fourth time.  I passed a husband and wife team who were performing arm circles while they walked.  Some individuals were walking slowly, others briskly.  It didn't matter the pace or the style of walking we each chose as we circled around, we were all here striving toward one ultimate goal - improved health and well-being.
     If you haven't exercised before and want to start or you are looking to mix up your regular exercise routine, mall walking is a great option to explore.

Advantages to mall walking:
1.  It is free.
2.  No need for special equipment other than a pair of good supportive walking shoes and comfortable clothes.
3. Climate control.  There is protection from adverse outdoor elements such as rain, snow, wind, high humidity, and extreme temperatures.
4.  Even terrain.  No need to worry about cracked sidewalks, bumpy roads, or snow and ice covered walkways.
5.  Social benefits.  You can enjoy the company of old friends and/or meet new.
6.  Non-intimidating/low-pressure place to exercise.  You truly can go at your own pace yet feel like you are part of the crowd without feeling inferior about your skills and abilities.
7.  Family-friendly activity.  Young children can come along in strollers, pull wagons, or baby carriers.  Older children can walk or skip alongside you.
8.  Safety.  Security guards are present at the mall.

     Many of the area's malls open their doors early for walkers before their shops are open for business.  Some offer free organized walking clubs that provide members with discounts from participating  merchants, awards for mileage achieved, and giveaways such as free quarterly breakfasts.  For more information, contact your local mall.

Questions to ask your local mall:
1.  What time is the mall open for walkers?
2.  Does the mall offer a formal walking club?
3.  Are there any special rules to follow for mall walkers (e.g. must enter mall through designated entrance)?
4.  What is the distance around the mall at each level?
5.  Are there lockers/coat racks for personal belongings?
6.  What provisions are there if a medical emergency occurs (e.g. Do they have an automated external defibrillator {AED} on site?  Are the security guards certified in CPR?)?
7.  Does the mall offer free or low cost health screenings and/or fitness seminars for mall walkers?

Mall walking tips:
1.  Treat mall walking as you would any other exercise activity.  Make sure you include a proper warm-up and cool-down to your session.  
2.  Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.  You can either bring water from home or use the mall's amenities (e.g. drinking fountains and/or vending machines).
3.   Yield to shoppers when walking during regular mall business hours.

     If improved physical fitness is one of your goals, then mall walking with its safe, social and low-pressure environment is an excellent option to help you achieve that goal.  

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cooling Down from Exercise

     The cool-down portion of an exercise session is important for your safety.  It allows for a gradual decrease in heart rate and blood pressure toward pre-exercise levels.  The cool-down also helps to bring the blood back to the heart.  Stopping exercise too abruptly, especially from a vigorous intensity, could increase the chances for post-exercise hypotension (blood pressure too low) from blood pooling in the legs.  Dizziness and/or fainting could result.  If the cool-down is insufficient, there is a greater likelihood for irregular heart rhythms to occur as well.  Furthermore, a proper cool-down facilitates the removal of "waste" products (lactic acid) from the exercise.
     The cool-down should last at least 5 minutes and involves gradually decreasing the intensity of exercise.  Stretching exercises, especially of the muscle groups used in the activity, can be performed when the heart rate is near pre-exercise levels.  Each stretch position should be held for 10-30 seconds and performed 2-4 times.  Stretch the muscle until you feel tension but not pain.  If pain occurs, ease off until only tension is felt.  Do not bounce during the stretch.  Bouncing can strain the muscles.  Remember to breathe while holding the stretch.
     Drinking fluids to replenish those lost during the activity should be done at this time.  It is recommended that you weigh yourself both before and after exercise to determine how much fluid you need to drink after exercise.  You should consume 20-24 ounces of fluid for each pound lost due to sweating.
     Incorporating a sufficient cool-down that includes a gradual decrease in heart rate, proper stretching techniques and adequate fluid replacement will help to ensure your safety.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.


ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription/American College of Sports Medicine; 7th edition

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal 12(4): 5-6, 2008

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 39(2): 377-390, 2007

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Exercise at its Core

     The conditioning phase of an exercise session involves participation in aerobic and/or strength training activities at an intensity that challenges the body enough to gain health benefits.  Depending on fitness goals, exercise chosen, and time available this component can be as short as 10 minutes when done three times per day or longer than 30 minutes when performed once.  To develop aerobic fitness (the ability of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels to efficiently provide blood and oxygen to working muscles) you will want to choose activities that use the major muscle groups of your body in a rhythmic and continuous fashion.  Walking, running, swimming, biking, and aerobic dance are some common examples of this type of activity.  It is recommended that you perform these exercises at a moderate-to vigorous-intensity level to improve health.
     An easy way to monitor the intensity of exercise is by the "talk test".  In the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the federal government, it states that if you engage in moderate-intensity exercise, you should still be able to carry on a conversation, but not sing.  If you are exercising at a vigorous-intensity, you are only able to speak a few words before needing to take a breath.
     Another way that you can monitor exercise intensity is by measuring your heart rate.  To gain health benefits you want to keep your heart rate within a certain range.  This range can be determined by using a calculation known as the Karvonen Method.
     This calculation relies on knowledge of both your maximal heart rate and your resting heart rate to determine your target heart rate range.  Although it is best to have your maximal heart rate determined from an exercise stress test performed at a medical facility, you can estimate your maximal heart rate by the following formula:

208 - 0.7 x age = estimated maximum heart rate (EMHR)

To determine your resting heart rate check your pulse for one minute after you have been sitting quietly for about five minutes.  Once you have determined your maximal and resting heart rates you can use the Karvonen Method below to determine your exercise heart rate range.

1.  EMHR - resting heart rate (RHR) = heart rate reserve (HRR)
2.  HRR x 60% + RHR = lower end of training range (moderate-intensity exercise)
3.  HRR x 80% + RHR = upper end of training range (vigorous-intensity exercise)

     De-conditioned individuals just starting an exercise program will want to exercise near the lower end of their heart rate range.  As fitness improves, progression toward the higher end of the range can occur.  Individuals who already regularly exercise will want to exercise near the higher end of their heart rate range.
     The intensity of muscle-strength training exercises is determined differently.  You will want to perform one set of 8-12 repetitions at an intensity that would be challenging to perform another repetition at the end of the set.  For example, if you were doing one set of eight repetitions of the bicep curl exercise, the activity should become increasingly difficult as you progress through the set so that you cannot perform a ninth repetition.
     You will want to perform the "talk test" or check your heart rate periodically throughout your workout to make sure you are maintaining an appropriate exercise level.  Make adjustments in intensity level as needed.  Keep in mind exercising above the recommended range can increase your risk of injury and cardiovascular events.  Exercising below the recommended range may not produce the desired gains in fitness and health.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.


ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription/American College of Sports Medicine; 7th edition.

Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2001 Jan; 37 (1): 153-6.  "Age-predicted Maximal Heart Rate Revisited", Tanaka H, Monahan KD, Seals DR. Dept. Of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, University of Colorado at Boulder, 80309-0354, USA.

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans;

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Warming Up to Exercise

     The first component of an exercise session is the warm-up.  Often, the warm-up is the first to be cut out of the workout when time is limited.  However, you could be doing more harm than good if you rush into intense exercise.
     A proper warm-up gets your body ready for the conditioning component of your workout.  It allows for a gradual increase in your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature from the resting level.  This facilitates blood flow and oxygen supply to the working muscles, reduces the demands placed on the heart, and decreases the likelihood of concurrent abnormal heart rhythms.  A warm-up also may help to prevent musculoskeletal injury by increasing the elasticity of the muscles and connective tissue.  The resultant increases in joint range of motion and function reduce the risk of strain and pull injuries.
     The warm-up phase usually lasts between 5-10 minutes (10-15 for older adults) and involves gradually increasing your workload from a lower-intensity toward the higher-intensity level associated with the endurance phase.  The intensity and type of activity performed during the warm-up are dependent upon the form of exercise used during the conditioning phase.
     It is best to perform activities that will be using the same muscle groups involved in the conditioning component.  For instance, if you plan on doing a brisk walk, it is best to warm-up with a slow-paced walk.  Likewise, if you intend to run at a vigorous intensity, then warming up with a brisk walk is ideal.  Warm-ups for strength training programs can involve lifting one set of lighter weights for each of the exercises to be performed with heavier weights.
     There is still some question as to whether it is best to do stretching exercises during the warm-up phase or during the cool-down phase.  An option is to do light stretching during warm-up and to do a more intense flexibility program during cool-down.  If you choose to do stretches during warm-up, perform them after about two minutes of low-intensity walking or biking to warm the muscles before stretching them.
     The warm-up is an important part of your exercise program and should not be skipped.  It can enhance performance and make exercise safer by preparing your body for the increased demands of the conditioning component of your workout.

Note:  Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.


ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription/American College of Sports Medicine, 7th edition.

ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription/American College of Sports Medicine, 4th edition.

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