So, you want to exercise, huh!?

So, you want to exercise, huh!?

You have heard that exercise is beneficial and healthy, and you want to jump on the bandwagon to start an exercise programme. Well done. This is indeed the first step. The second step is understanding how to go about it. Here are a few things you should know.

Types of exercises

There are three main types of exercise and these should form the basis of your routine, being mindful of your ultimate goals. If you are after general fitness and staying in shape these should be admixed in equal proportions.

Aerobic or cardio exercise

This is rhythmic activity whose main goal is to make the heart beat faster improving heart, lung and circulatory function. It has been shown to be protective on the heart and ancillary systems such as reducing blood pressure, risk of stroke and heart disease and improving the blood fat and sugar levels.

The idea is to raise the heart rate to 60 – 80% of the person’s maximum heart rate (Max HR – a rule of thumb to calculate Max HR is deducting your age from 220 – E.g. if you are 50 years old, the Max HR is 170 and so the target Heart rate is 102-136bpm). This must be sustained for as long as possible. Needless to say, if you have been sedentary for a long period of time this should be eased into and built up gradually. If you suffer from chronic illness, you should speak to your doctor before starting this out. Aim to build up to a sustained target heart rate for 20 – 30 minutes. This should feel like exerting yourself enough while still being able to maintain a conversation.

Examples of this type of activity include running, cycling, fast walking, rowing and swimming. Choose an activity that you like in order to prevent boredom and thus ensuring your routine for exercise is sustainable.

Flexibility and core strength

Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi aim at improving flexibility. Pilates has the added advantage of working intensely on core strength helping to alleviate back pain as well. The aim of these exercises is to increase the range of motion of joints and thus are very helpful in alleviating the stiffness of arthritis. Flexibility exercises should also form part of your workout routine to help warm up and cool down to prevent muscle and tendon injuries.

Strength exercises

As the name implies, the aim of this type of exercise if to build muscular strength. This not only makes you physically stronger, to take on what life throws at you, but it has been shown to prevent falls (ideal for the elderly person), builds muscle bulk which in turn burns more calories (even at rest; wink wink) and builds stronger bones (prevents osteoporosis). You can use own body weight such as with push-ups, pullups and squats; or via the use of free weights or machines – the type you would find in a gym.

Fitness programme

Most individuals like myself will not follow through with a sustainable programme unless some sort of schedule is set up. Remember that rest is as important as exercise and so you should alternate one day of rest with one of exercise. Depending on your activity you need to allocate the right amount of time as well. Start with a 30-minute regime of your ideal activity. If this feels hard at first, break it down into two sessions of 15 minutes with a 5-minute stretching period in between. The idea is to enjoy it.

Enjoying something means that you will try your utmost to allow more time for it. Try pairing up with a friend to make it even more appealing. When the going gets tough you can be there to morally push each other. Of course, your buddy must be roughly as fit as you as otherwise this will not be feasible. Once you are up and running try working towards a goal such as a 5-mile run or a small sportive event. A goal will ensure you don’t give up and will enable you to strive harder to succeed.

A word about location. There are many pros and cons as to whether to train at the gym, at home or outdoors. A gym membership means you are paying for something and this might be an incentive to keep your attendance regular. Home gyms give you flexibility on time, especially for those with busy families, but from personal and peer experience this will lose its lustre and that expensive elliptical trainer will soon start gathering dust. My advice is to mix it up. It depends a lot on which activity you will pursue but most sports have a gym and an outdoor counterpart. Personally, when it comes to running and cycling, I would much rather be outside than stuck inside a gym – but that is a matter of personal preference! See what works for you as finally the whole scope is to keep it fun.

If all works out, you will soon start racking up the miles, or perhaps the weights, and you will become addicted. I know a few guys who turned their lives around and ended up working to fund the countless trips to participate in massive events like international triathlons and ultramarathons. You might not become Usain Bolt, but there is something to celebrate every time you beat the couch!

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