Taking Regular Exercise

Taking steps to increase the amount of physical activity in your daily life

For exercise to be beneficial (see The benefits of exercise), it has to be regular and consistent. The type and amount of activity you can incorporate into your lifestyle depends on the time you have available to exercise. The best form of exercise is one that you enjoy doing and can fit into your daily routine. Exercise should be tailored to your age, state of health, and lifestyle.

Recommended level of exercise

Evidence has shown that even gentle exercise has measurable positive effects on life expectancy; consequently, everyone should try to lead an active life. If your life is fairly active already, there are guidelines on the amount and the frequency of additional exercise you can take to gain the maximum benefit to your general health. Current recommendations are that you should do at least 30 minutes of exercise at moderate intensity on at least 5 days of the week. A brisk 30-minute walk will provide a healthy amount of exercise for the day. However, if you want to improve your muscle tone or lose excess body fat, or if you want to become even more fit, you will have to exercise harder and for a longer time.

Starting out

If your life is sedentary, begin by taking simple steps to become more active. For example, you could make a habit of climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift. If your life already includes some physical activity, think about starting a regular exercise routine, such as swimming, brisk walking, or jogging.

Make sure that your exercise routine is realistic for you, that you slowly build up the amount of exercise you take, and that you learn safe techniques (see Exercising safely). You may be encouraged to continue exercising on a regular basis once you begin to experience its positive effects.

Consult your doctor

If you have never exercised regularly before, or if you think you may be at particular risk from exercise, you should consult your doctor before starting a regular exercise programme. You should consult your doctor if you have a chronic medical condition, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure (see Hypertension), diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney failure, or asthma. You should ask your doctor for advice if you are overweight or if you are over age 35 and have not exercised regularly for several years.

Your doctor may recommend certain types of exercises that are appropriate for you. For example, if you are overweight and have not exercised for some years, he or she may suggest gentle exercise, such as walking or cycling, to avoid any strain on your heart and to reduce the risk of injury. If you have asthma, your doctor may suggest swimming.

Assess your fitness

Overall fitness is a combination of three factors: stamina, flexibility, and strength. To improve your level of fitness, you need to do regular exercise that works your heart and lungs (builds stamina), improves your joint mobility (increases flexibility), and increases your muscle strength.

Before starting regular exercise, it is a good idea to estimate your overall fitness. Think about the activity you do in a normal day or week. You may find that you already do some exercise most days, such as walking to work.

Your resting pulse can be used as an indication of your general cardiovascular fitness. A fairly slow pulse indicates that your heart is fit. If you stop exercising regularly, you will lose the level of fitness you have attained, but can regain your fitness by restarting exercise.

Choosing the right exercise

Exercise needs vary depending on age, lifestyle, and fitness. Individual sports and activities improve different aspects of fitness (see Choices for fitness). You should choose exercises that help you to develop stamina, suppleness, and strength and that you can do all year round. Decide what your fitness goal is and then choose an activity.

Getting the most from your exercise programme

If your goal from regular exercise is to achieve an optimal level of fitness, you might set yourself a target heart rate. It is a good idea to monitor and record improvements in your fitness at regular intervals, such as once a month. You can monitor your fitness level by taking your pulse while at rest and then measuring how quickly it returns to its resting rate after vigorous exercise (see Your pulse recovery time). As you become fitter, your pulse recovery time decreases.

Target heart rate

To calculate this, first estimate your maximum heart rate, which is normally about 220 minus your age. Your target heart rate during exercise is 60–80 percent of your maximum heart rate. You can measure your pulse to monitor your heart rate during exercise, but wearing an electronic heart rate monitor is easier and gives a more accurate measurement.

Planning your programme

When you start to increase the amount of exercise, you must build up gradually (see Exercising safely). Initially, increase the number of times each week that you exercise. When you are exercising more frequently, focus on increasing the length of time. Finally, you should increase the intensity of your exercise so that you achieve your target heart rate. For maximum benefit, you should aim to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes at your target heart rate.

Health Option: Choices for Fitness

Assessment: Your Pulse Recovery Time

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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