Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Incorporating exercise into your life

If there's one thing that I'm extremely passionate about, it's living a healthy lifestyle. I would rather have health without wealth than wealth without health, as I think would most people when it comes down to it.

Everyone is aware of the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S.; we merely have to look around us for ample evidence. Even more unfortunate, many of us have friends or family who suffer from some of the health complications related to obesity.

There are many sources of blame for the obesity problem, but the solution is fairly simple and we all have the power to do what it takes to address it. Eating is a big part of it, and I have previously blogged about the topic and plan to continue to do so in the future. However, we all know that exercise is good for us (here's a scientific explanation behind some of the reasons why). There's recent evidence that suggests a healthy lifestyle triggers changes as far as at the genetic level.

It doesn't take a huge time commitment to incorporate exercise into our lives to obtain the health benefits that it provides; as little as 3 hours per week can be all that's required. I have been going to the gym regularly for 10 years now and enjoy being in the best physical condition that my body has known, so I speak from personal experience.

I currently maintain around 6-8% body fat, although my primary goal is to feel good rather than look good--not that it's a bad side effect. For the record, I've never used a personal trainer (although I did take a basic weightlifting class in college), taken supplements, or visited a nutritionist, so if I can do it, anyone can. I have read a few books on the subject, done some research on the internet, and experimented at the gym, but the biggest step is just making health a priority and creating time to get fit.

Exercise can be grouped into three categories:

  • Flexibility exercises such as stretching improve the range of motion of muscles and joints.
  • Aerobic exercises such as cycling, walking, running, hiking or playing tennis focus on increasing cardiovascular endurance.
  • Anaerobic exercises such as weight training, functional training or sprinting increase short-term muscle strength.
While I do incorporate some stretching exercises into my workout, the bulk of my time is focused on cardio and strength training. At least three times a week, I spend an hour at the gym, consisting of half an hour of intense cardio (bike, elliptical, cross-ramp, treadmill, etc.) and half an hour of circuit & weight training to work my major muscle groups. I will go into more detail about my workout routine in a subsequent post, but suffice it to say, the cardio exercise is good for my heart, and the resistance training keeps my muscles and bones strong.

I think a lot of people fail or give up on exercise because of unrealistic expectations and/or boredom. I found it helpful to start slow and do what I can, and gradually build up my endurance over time (as a caveat, always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program if you're seriously out of shape or have medical conditions). Don't get discouraged if you don't see drastic results immediately. It takes time to gain weight, and it will take time to lose it. Those get-fit-quick programs such as "The Biggest Loser", while inspirational, are rather unrealistic for most people who lead busy lives and don't have a significant amount of time and resources at their disposal.

Some studies suggest that checking the scale regularly helps to maintain weight loss, but as stated in the video clip above I found that measuring my waist, chest, and arms make for a better indicator of progress, since muscle gain is an inevitable result of any fat loss activity and may skew weight readings.

The key to a successful exercise routine is to make it a sustainable habit, and everyone has tricks to keep their exercise programs interesting, whether it's listening to music, reading books, or something else. I find that having a dedicated workout partner helps me to stay motivated, and I use a heart rate monitor to keep the intensity of my cardio workouts high. I really enjoy the adrenaline rush after going to the gym, but if you don't quite get the same experience then find other ways to reward yourself for making progress and sticking with your exercise program. Maybe a new iPod will make your workout routine less boring, or a new wardrobe will give you more incentive to hit the gym.

As the Nike slogan says, "just do it."

No comments: