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Fitness for a Lifetime

How much exercise - and what kind - do you need for lifelong fitness?
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Exclusive Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

As each New Year begins, we're bombarded with enticing ads for everything from fitness equipment to health club memberships to home workout videos -- all purporting to be exactly what we need to get in shape.

But in reality, no two people's fitness needs are identical. Further, experts say that our fitness needs can change -- sometimes significantly -- in every decade of our lives.

"While there are certain fitness basics that hold true from person to person and decade to decade, there are also certain types of exercises specific to each decade -- they are age-related as well as related to health risks," says Chris Carmichael, personal coach to Lance Armstrong and one of the experts behind the "Keep Moving" motivational workout program for older adults.

To help you find the workouts that suit you best, Carmichael, along with exercise pro Kelli Calabrese and bone and nutrition expert Deborah Litman, MD, helped WebMD put together the following guidelines. (Remember that no matter what your age, you should check with your doctor before beginning any exercise plan.)

Your 20s and 30s

If you're like most women, your 20s and 30s are filled with energy and activity. As such, you may not see the need for a formal exercise program.

But regardless of how active your life is, experts advise, don't overlook the power of a regular fitness routine to increase your health now and in the future.

"Fitness in the 20s and 30s is really all about creating good health habits, and that should really be your main goal," says Calabrese, an exercise physiologist who was Personal Fitness Professional Magazine's 2004 Online Trainer of the Year.

To affect your health right now, experts say, concentrate on workouts that help build a healthy skeleton.

"During your 20s you are still building bones, so it's important to do exercises that help you build the strongest bones possible," says Carmichael.

That means doing weight-bearing workouts (those that work your muscles and bones against gravity, like walking or jogging) for 30 minutes, twice a week.

"The idea is to put stress on your bones, which encourages them to become stronger," says Carmichael.

In terms of your future health, nothing is more important than regular cardio workouts. You can reap benefits from just 20-30 minutes, twice a week, of an aerobic activity like running, swimming, biking, or even dancing, Carmichael tells WebMD: "You will reduce your risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, or even heart attack later in life."

And the sooner you incorporate fitness into your daily life, the more likely you will be to carry the habit into the next several decades.

"It's a lot easier to carry a behavior from one decade to the next, than trying to change a behavior in later years," Carmichael says.

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