If you’re reading this article, you’ve decided to get fit or getting ready to your first fitness test. (Or, like wannabe home remodelers who do nothing more than sit on the couch watching Home Time or his Old House, you’re pretending to get fit by reading this book!) While transforming yourself from couch potato to buff hottie doesn’t take a Ph.D. in physiology or kinesiology, you do need to follow a few rules of the road.
This article outlines the very basics of getting fit. If you want to find out more, each section tells you which chapters to read for all the juicy details.
Yes, This Class Has Tests
In order to best determine how to reach your fitness goals, you first need to figure out where you are, physically. And the best way to do this is to sign up for a fitness evaluation, including a full health/fitness history and other important measures, such as the following:
Resting heart rate:
Also known as pulse, this test measures the number of times per minute your heart beats while you’re sitting down or in some other way relaxing. As you exercise more and more, your resting heart rate will likely drop.
Heart rate after physical activity:
Generally, you exercise for about 15 minutes on a treadmill or stationary bicycle and test your pulse. Cardio exercises can gradually lower this number.
This test measures how hard your heart has to work to pump blood through your blood vessels. Cardio activities can help alleviate high blood pressure (hypertension), which can lead to health problems.
Percentage of body fat:
Instead of measuring how much you weigh, which doesn’t necessarily indicate how fit you are, measuring your body fat tells you how much of you is fat and how much is muscle, bones, blood, organs, and other tissues. Up to a point, the lower the number,
the better; reducing your body fat is often a matter of eating better and burning calories through cardio workouts and lifting weights.
This tests measures the strength of your upper body, abdominal muscles, and lower body by doing sit-ups, push-ups, leg extensions (on a weight machine), and so on.
Because flexibility is the downfall of even the super-fit, make sure your evaluation measures the range of motion of your joints and muscles. Each of these tests can be done by a physician, a personal trainer, or a fitness professional working at a gym. But don’t spend any time studying for them:
You can’t fail these tests. Think of them more as baseline measurements that help you decide where to put your emphasis: improving the health of your heart, losing weight and reducing body fat, building strength, improving your flexibility, and so on.
Choosing Your Weapon
With so many workout options available these days, you have plenty of fitness
weapons from which to choose. Your workout options tend to fall into three
categories, however: cardio, strength, and combination workouts. The three
following sections give you a brief overview of each.
Seeing into the heart of the matter Workouts that get your heart pumping are known as cardio (short for cardio-vascular) exercises, and these improve the health of your heart and blood vessels. Cardio workouts also burn calories, which helps you lose weight.
The simplest — and, perhaps, the cheapest — cardio exercise is walking. Other popular cardio exercises include running, cycling, in-line skating, swimming, rowing, and (if you live in a snowy winter climate) snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Getting buff with weights
Many men focus heavily on weight training, while some women shy away from it. The truth is that both men and women need to do some strength training (along with some cardio workouts, discussed in the preceding section, to get the heart and blood vessels into tip-top shape) for one important reason: to help burn more calories. Strange as it seems, weightlifting improves your resting metabolism, which means you turn into a fat- and calorie-burning machine. Chapter 11 shares this and many other reasons to
start pumping iron.
Cardio and strength together:
Two for the price of one A few activities combine cardio and strength training into one workout. One of the most popular, circuit training, combines a cardio warm-up and cooldown with a series of weight-lifting and other strength stations. Not only can circuit training save you time, but it’s also a lot of fun, because you move from station to station every 30 or 40 seconds. Two other popular strength-cardio exercises are yoga and Pilates, which tend to focus on core strength, the strength and flexibility of your midsection. Discussed before, respectively, yoga and Pilates can be high-energy, revved-up workouts or soothing, mind-body workouts that leave you feeling refreshed.
Stretching Your Mind (and Body)
Don’t let recent headlines claiming there’s no correlation between stretching
and injuries fool you: If you stretch properly and do it after (not before) you
work out, studies show that you reduce your risk of injury.
What Are You Eating?
The link between exercise and nutrition has been clear for decades, and you’re likely to have trouble improving your fitness if you make poor nutritional choices. But how do you know which choices to make? Low fat? High carb? Low carb? High protein? Low calorie? Food pyramids? Hydration? Vitamins? It’s enough to make your head spin.
Knowing what to eat for optimal fitness has never been a murkier proposition. Fortunately, we guide you through the haze, giving you a clear picture of the benefits of a low-fat, low-bad-carb, high-good-carb, moderate-protein, Mediterranean-food-pyramid, lots-o-water, balanced diet. Flip to that chapter when you’re ready to get the final scoop on nutrition — final for based on current scientific research, that is.
At Home or at the Gym — Choosing
What’s Best for You To join or not to join, that is the fitness question everyone asks himself at some point. Joining a gym can be a big financial investment, and many people choose not to join for that reason, opting for the free activities (walking, run-
ning, cycling) available just by walking out your front door.
But gyms have plenty to offer, including the latest and greatest workout equipment, fun and invigorating classes, the opportunity to schedule time with a personal trainer, and the infectious energy of other gym members.
A gym isn’t the only place to use exercise equipment. If you have the money to invest in your own equipment, you can set up your own home gym in your basement, spare room, garage, or any other convenient area.
Special Exercises for Special People
Fitness isn’t only for those buff, 20-something gyms gods. In fact, you can start exercising in your 80s and still reap the benefits of a healthier, longer life. And the earlier in life you start working out, the more likely it will become a lifelong habit. Chapter 23 offers some tips and advice for beginning an exercise program in your senior years.
How early is early enough? How about the womb? One study shows that women who exercise during pregnancy have leaner babies who turn into leaner kids. The benefits aren’t only for the kids, however. From reducing back pain and encouraging better sleep patterns to encountering an easier delivery to slipping back into your old jeans more quickly, exercising during pregnancy offers incredible health benefits.
Kids, perhaps more than any other age group, understand that being active is fun. If you can tap into their natural love of activities, especially games, sports, and dancing, you can help your kids avoid the alarming rates of obesity that plague children today. Without emphasizing “exercise” or “workouts,” you can introduce your child to all sorts of healthy activities that encourage a lifelong fitness. Keep the emphasis on fun, without pushing your child into competitions or activities she doesn’t enjoy, and you’ll help your child become an adult with a strong body and a healthy heart.