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Fitness: Getting and Staying Active - What Does "Being Active" Really Mean?

Being active means allowing your body to "practice" breathing, using your muscles, and stretching. The more practice your body gets, the better it works.

It's important to be active in three areas: aerobic activity, muscle strength, and stretching.

Aerobic activity

Aerobic activity makes your heart and lungs work harder and builds up your endurance. It gets more oxygen to your muscles, which allows your muscles to work longer. Aerobic activities include walking, running, cycling, and swimming.

To get and stay healthy, experts say to do either of these:2

You can choose to do one or both types of activity. And it's fine to be active in several blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. Do what works best for you. For example, you could do moderate activity for 45 minutes every other day. Or you could do 10 minutes 3 times a day, 5 days a week.

How hard to work

Moderate activity causes your heart and lungs to work harder. Here's an easy way to know if you're working hard enough to get the health benefits of moderate-level activity:

  • If you can't talk and do your activity at the same time, you are exercising too hard.
  • If you can sing while you do your activity, you may not be working hard enough.
  • If you can talk but can't sing while you do your activity, you are doing fine.

Another way to see how hard you exercise is to find your target heart rate. As a guideline, use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate? calculator.gif and learn to take your pulse slideshow.gif.

Stronger muscles

Building stronger muscles is an important part of overall health. When your muscles are strong, you can carry heavy grocery bags more easily, pick up children without feeling as much strain, or do more downhill ski runs before you get too tired and have to stop.

Making your muscles stronger includes:

  • Resistance training. This helps build muscles through regular use, especially when your muscles have to work against something.
  • Strengthening your core. This helps build the muscles around your belly and back (trunk). This is called core stability. It can help you have better posture and balance, and help protect you from injury.
    actionset.gif Fitness: Increasing Core Stability

Experts advise people to do exercises to strengthen muscles at least 2 times a week. Be sure to work the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

Examples of exercises that strengthen muscles include lifting weights and resistance training.

Stretching for flexibility

Flexibility means being able to move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion.

As you become more flexible, you will find it easier to reach things on high shelves, to look under a bed, or perhaps to tie your shoes. You will also have a better sense of balance and coordination.

To stay flexible, stretch slideshow.gif all your major groups of muscles. These include the muscles of your arms, your back, your hips, the front and back of your thighs, and your calves.

As you get started with flexibility and stretching, begin slowly, and increase your efforts bit by bit. You can measure your progress with flexibility by noticing how much farther you can do each stretch. Can you stretch farther each day than you could when you started? If so, your flexibility is getting better.

Do your stretching and flexibility exercises in addition to your aerobic and strength-building exercises.

1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 25, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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