Fitness: Getting and Staying Active (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
What Does "Being Active" Really Mean?
Being active means allowing your body to "practice" breathing, stretching, and lifting. The more practice your body gets, the better it works.
Think about doing things in three areas:
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.
Regular aerobic activity lowers your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. It helps you stay at a healthy weight. It can help you deal with stress and sleep better.
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.
Moderate exercise is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before becoming more active.
How hard to work
Here's an easy way to know if you're working hard enough to get the health benefits of moderate-level activity:
One way to know how hard you should exercise is to find your target heart rate. Being active within the range of your target heart rate not only helps you keep your heart and lungs healthy but also helps you get or stay fit. As a guideline, use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate? and learn to take your pulse.
If you have a health problem that keeps you from being as active as experts recommend, aerobic activity can still help you be healthier. Talk to your doctor about what activities you can do.
Making your muscles stronger 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.
When you do activities to make your muscles stronger, you:
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 include lifting weights and resistance training.
Muscles get stronger when they are used regularly, but especially when they have to work against something. This is called "resistance."
For example, you use your arm muscles when you bend your arm at the elbow. But when you do the same movement with something heavy in your hand, your arm muscles are working against more resistance.
"Resistance training" means making your muscles stronger by exercising with things like weights or rubber tubing. It also includes certain exercises, like push-ups, that use your own body weight as resistance.
For best results, use a resistance that makes your muscles tired after 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. To avoid injury, start with light weights and few repetitions. You can increase the weight and the repetitions as you get stronger. To learn more, see Preventing Injury and Illness.
Strengthening your core
Having a strong core is good for everyone, from older people to top professional athletes. It can help you have better posture and balance, and help protect you from injury.
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 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.
When you exercise, you repeatedly shorten your muscles. To counter this effect, you need to stretch slowly and regularly, which makes you more flexible. Combining it with other fitness activities is best.
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.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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