Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Series on Getting and Staying Healthy: Exercise, Part I

I was reflecting on an earlier post I wrote after reading the book "Younger Next Year" and decided I'd write a series of blog posts on some of the basic principles of getting and staying healthy. These include eating a good, well balanced diet, avoiding smoking, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, managing your stress levels and exercise.

I'll start with the last item, exercise. I'm going to start by telling you what I do now, then backtrack and talk about aspects of an exercise program in more detail in subsequent posts. I'll include motivation, getting started, how much and what kinds of exercise are needed, staying on track, avoiding injury, hydration, warm up and cool down, stretching, rest days, exercise for weight loss, and exercise and staving off depression.

So, let me start by telling you what I do now. I was doing about 30 minutes a day of aerobics about 4 or 5 days a week, but after reading the book, committed to increasing that to at least 45 minutes a day for 5 days or more a week. Most weeks, I work out six or even seven days. I used to be a runner but, since I had my knee replaced a little over two years ago, I've completely given this up. My favorite exercise is on my road bike, a custom-built titanium beauty that is really fun to ride. I often use a pulse monitor to assure that I stay in the aerobic zone (I'll say more about this later). This is, for me, between 70 and 80 percent of my maximum heart rate which is about 130 beats/minute. At that level of work, I am "working" not just playing or having fun. So, one of the key things I tell people is to consider exercise as enjoyable work, not just play or fun. In order to get the benefits of exercise and stay physically fit, you need to do this "work". So many people stroll along on their walks or bike in an upright, comfortable mode and their heart rates are likely not above 100 beats/min. They will get some benefit from this, but nowhere near the maximum result.

On most days, I go on a ride that combines hills and flat terrain about 10 to 12 miles and that takes me about 50 or 55 minutes. On weekends and on some days when I don't have an early meeting, I enjoy going longer about 1 1/2 to 3 hours. One of my favorite rides takes in the Arkansas river, over the Dam Bridge and along the river trail walking/biking trail. In the mornings, with mist coming off of the river, with gulls flying, deer in the pastures, and energetic fitness enthusiasists around me I learn to rejoice in the moment and recognize for those brief swatches of time that "it doesn't get much better than this!".

When weather doesn't permit outdoor biking, I often hop on my reserve bike that is tethered to an indoor magnetic trainer (called a Kurt Kinetic) that does a great job of simulating the road and allows me to get a very good workout indoors. Again I typically use a pulse monitor and will say more about that in subsequent posts. Indoor bike workouts are typically for 45 minutes in front of ESPN SportsCenter or, sometimes, with a workout video to guide me.

For a change of pace, I get on an indoor elliptical machine. It is a good idea to have at least one or two alternative aerobic activities that allow resting of some of the muscles that get maxed out in the other training modes. I either do a programmed workout that does a good job of pushing me through some fitness improving intervals or I just put the machine on manual mode at about a 10 or 12 level that keeps my pulse at the target rate.

I save the sports section of the paper for cool downs and breakfast with cereal and fruit before showering and going to work. This program has served me well for years and allows me to go to work energized and ready for the day.

Next time I'll talk about how to get started on an exercise program for those who may not be doing it on a regular basis.

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