The 5 Elements of Fitness continued...
Increase your flexibility with floor stretches or yoga poses. And your cooldown should be similar to the warm up, says Steele -- "cardiovascular work at a low level to bring the heart rate down to a resting state."
You can do strength work in same workout as your aerobic work, or split them up. Just be sure to warm up and cool down every time you exercise.
If you're short on time one day, increase the intensity of your workout, says Tony Swain, MS, fitness director of East Bank Club in Chicago. Instead of your usual 45-minute ride on the stationary bike, choose a harder program for 25 minutes and really push yourself. Choose the hilly walk in your neighborhood, or jog instead of walking.
You can step up the pace of your strength workout by doing compound exercises -- those that work more than one muscle group at a time.
For example, doing squats (with or without weights) works the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, and calves. Push-ups involve the pectorals, deltoids, biceps, triceps -- even the abdominals and the upper back.
If you're not the create-your-own workout type, there are fitness videos galore -- offering everything from kickboxing to belly dancing to Pilates. You can find them at local bookstores and discount stores, or on the Web. Just be sure to choose one that's appropriate for your fitness level.
If you're a beginner, aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week, and 20 to 30 minutes of strength work three times a week. Be sure your strength workout covers all major muscle groups, in your upper body, lower body, abdominals and back. Shoot for three sets of 10-15 repetitions of each strength exercise.
No matter what type of exercise you do, be sure to start slowly and gradually increase your workout time and intensity. And don't forget to listen to your body, says Weil.
"Focus on the muscles that you think you should be working," he says. "See if you feel it there. If you're working your abs and you feel it in your neck, then it's not right. Close your eyes and start to tune in to your body."