Aerobic Exercise Conditioning For a Longer and Healthier Life

Aerobic exercise is any activity that requires extra oxygen and leads to improved cardiovascular function. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, stair climbing, swimming, and cycling. Such exercise forms the foundation for any well rounded fitness program.

Numerous studies have documented the value of aerobic conditioning: People who exercise vigorously on a regular basis live longer, have fewer heart attacks and other serious diseases, and enjoy a greater sense of well-being than their sedentary peers Three basics are essential for a conditioning effect:

Frequency: three or four times a week.

Intensity: vigorous enough to increase your heartbeat to its target zone.

Duration: at least 15 to 20 minutes per session.

Some exercise physiologists add a fourth basic — balance.

Excessive exercise can strain joints and supporting structures and increase the risk of sprains, stress fractures, and other injuries.

Designing an Exercise Conditioning Program

Start with a physical checkup, especially if you are over the age of 40 or if you have any cardiovascular risk factors. These include a history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity, and a cigarette habit. A doctor may also recommend an exercise tolerance test to determine your safe level of physical activity.

Next, pick an activity that you enjoy — if exercise is a drudgery, chances are you won't stick with it long enough to get in shape. Also consider what is appropriate for your age and general health. Almost everyone can undertake a walking program, whereas jogging, racketball, and high-impact aerobic dancing require not only stamina but also sturdy joints.

Select the right equipment. Walking requires only well-fitted walking shoes and a safe, comfortable place to walk. If you would rather work out on a stationary cycle or other equipment, try it out before making an investment. If you are considering joining a health club, visit several and then sign up for a short trial period before committing yourself to a long-term membership, After a few sessions, you may decide this particular club is not to your liking.

Start slowly and gradually build endurance. Many people do too much too soon, and end up with aching muscles and joints or more serious injuries. For example, if you are beginning a walking program, start by walking a mile at a comfortable pace. Over the next few weeks, gradually increase your speed and distance: for most people, two miles in 30 to 40 minutes is a reasonable goal.

Include a few minutes of warm-up and cool-down stretching exercises before and after each session These help to prevent painful muscle tightness and injuries from overuse.

How to Find Your Target Heart Rate

Formula Example for a 40-year-old

Subtract your age from 220 e.g. 220 - 40 =180
Multiply the result by 75 percent e.g. 180 x 75=135

The result is the target number of heartbeats per minute To find out if your heartbeat is in the target zone, exercise at peak intensity for 10 to 15 minutes; stop, find your pulse, and count the heartbeats for 10 seconds. Multiply by 6 to determine your heart rate.

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