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Exercise and Fitness Tips to Improve Your Health

Get answers to your questions about exercise, and tips for getting the most from your workouts.

Q. I don't have time to exercise. I hate exercise. 60 minutes a day?

The 60-minute suggestion is based on the National Academy of Science's recommendation for people who are trying to prevent weight gain, or keep themselves from regaining after weight loss -- not for people who are trying to increase or maintain their cardio-respiratory fitness or health. There's plenty of research to show that 30 minutes of physical activity a day will help you gain lots of health and fitness benefits.

Both guidelines will help improve your health and fitness. Following the more vigorous ACSM recommendation will make you more aerobically fit, and its strength-training component will make you stronger and more toned. The Surgeon General guideline, meanwhile, may be easier to fit into your lifestyle -- not replacing the ACSM guideline, but complementing it.

If you already exercise vigorously at the gym several times a week, there's no reason to quit. But if the ACSM recommendation is too much for you, the Surgeon General's report offers you an alternative.

The most important thing is that you do something.

Q. Where do I start if I have never exercised?

If you're new to exercise, or have struggled with it in the past, talk with your doctor about your exercise plans. After that, start by incorporating more activity into your daily life. For instance:

  • If you always take the elevator, try the stairs.
  • If you try to park next to the door of wherever you're going, park farther away and walk.
  • If your habit is to eat at your desk, take a 10- to 20-minute walk first, then have your lunch (or take a walk after you eat).
  • Instead of watching TV all day Saturday and Sunday, plan active weekends. Go to the park, take a walking tour, ride your bike, or row a boat.

Whichever plan you decide on, it's a good idea to set weekly goals:

  • Write down what activity you plan to do, on what day of the week, for how long, and at what time of day. Be as specific and realistic as possible. For instance, write down "Tuesday: Walk for 20 minutes at 7 p.m., to the park and back."
  • At the end of each week, review your goals and set new ones for the upcoming week.

Research shows that setting goals will help you stick to your program. It will clarify what you're supposed to do and let you track your progress. If you hit a roadblock later on, you can refer back to what has worked in the past, or use your accomplishments to re-energize yourself.

Q. What should my heart rate be during exercise?

Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, recommends calculating your target heart rate with a formula called the “heart rate reserve” method. Use a watch with a second hand to keep track of how many times your heart beats per minute. You can feel your heartbeat at the underside of your wrist or along the side of your neck.

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