Sometimes just getting started is the toughest part of an exercise plan. In today’s busy world, we tend to jump into a new program with the same intensity we meet other aspects of our lives: We join a gym and sign up for a high-intensity class, start lifting heavy weights or even decide to run a marathon. Not that any of those activities are necessarily bad, but after years of inactivity the likelihood of injury increases.
It is much better to build up gradually when starting an exercise plan, allowing your body to acclimate and build strength over time. Simple daily actions lead to long-term health. My friend and mentor Rosie Bank calls this The Compound Effect, and has shown it so well in the graphic below:
I am frequently asked what forms of exercise are best to get started. Variety is the spice of life, and is also the best way to approach a lifetime of healthy exercise. Many have asked for more guidance on what types of exercise to include, so here are some tips for you:
5 Exercise Tips
- Aerobic Exercise: Begin with low-impact aerobic activity. At the gym, use the stationary bike, stepping machines or the elliptical for a few weeks before jumping head first into that Zumba class. Walk before running, all the while listening to your body. Try quick 45 sec bursts of intensity with 2-3 minutes of similar but lower intensity to catch your breath. Repeating this intensity cycle for 20 minutes will improve both your stamina and cardiovascular health.
- Strength Training: Resistance training can be done with weights or using your own body’s weight. Either way, working against gravity strengthens our muscles and bones, improving our metabolism. Done properly, it also improves our joint health and reduces the incidence of osteoporosis, helps maintain balance, and keeps our brains functioning at their peak. Be sure to ask a certified trainer for their help in starting with strength training. Doing the exercises correctly is extremely important. A good teacher will help you with a personalized plan that challenges but avoids risking injury due to improper placement. Even one or two sessions with a trainer is beneficial at first. Most gyms offer a free session to get you started.
- Flexibility: Also called Range of Motion, reduced flexibility is the leading cause of injury and limited mobility. Stretching should be done after any aerobic or series of strength exercises. Stretches should never be painful and should be done with a sense of active relaxation. Both pilates and yoga training encourages both flexibility and mindfulness. Meditation and breathing steadily and deeply encourages muscle relaxation. A thorough explanation of the importance of flexibility is seen in this excerpt by Human Kinetics.
- Core Strength: Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better stability and reduces back pain. No special equipment is needed to strengthen your core, but make sure you are positioning your body correctly to avoid strain on your back. Pay attention to keeping your back in a neutral position without arching. Pilates is the ideal exercise program for core strength. You can learn some beginning Pilates moves here.
- Balance: Balance exercises are important for any age. If you’re an older adult, balance exercises are especially important because they can help you prevent falls and maintain your independence. Good balance helps prevent injuries, and increases your ability to play a sport. It is also excellent for neuromotor fitness. Some excellent exercises for balance include pilates, yoga, bosu ball and tai chi.
Recent research findings suggest that if people continue to participate in healthy behaviors and thought patterns in their middle years, they will experience a vital, satisfying life in their 70s and beyond. Regular physical exercise, engaging in cognitively stimulating activities, maintaining an optimistic mental outlook, and finding meaning in life are all important aspects of long-term wellness. The good news is that there is increasing evidence that our behavior at age 50 will impact how we feel at age 80. In this way, an exercise plan along with other healthy habits will improve our quality of life.
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