Getting the most from your workout

Here are some definitions of the word "Exercise".  ….the activity of exerting your muscles in various ways to keep fit; [1]  ……Activity that requires physical or mental exertion, especially when performed to develop or maintain fitness [2]    Notice how both definitions incorporate the word "fit". What does that mean, "fit".  Does it mean "buff", does it mean "a size 6".  Does it mean you can keep up in aerobics class?  What does it mean?

While maybe it means something different to each person you ask, to me it means "healthy".  It means that you are living at "optimal health".  Well, what does that mean?  It means you are always conscious of how you treat your body; how you exercise and how you eat.  But since we are focusing on the exercise portion, it means that you are exercising "optimally".  There are many types of exercises and many activities that would be considered an exercise-oriented activity.  However, some forms of exercise are more effective  than other types.  People often ask me "Kim, what kind of exercise should I do.  Which one is best?"  That’s a hard question to answer.  Everyone is different and an exercise that will be great for one person may be terrible for someone else.  I have compiled a list of criteria that I think will help people determine the answer to this so prevalent question.

1.  First and most important:  Choose an activity you like, or at least can picture yourself doing for a very long time.  You will be most successful if you feel that the activity you choose is "natural" for you.  I have done many activities and running is the only thing that feels like it was meant for me to do.  So find what is your favorite. 

2.  Just because you like it, however, doesn’t mean it will be easy.  Exercise shouldn’t be too easy.  That doesn’t mean you need to be training for a marathon to get a good workout, but if you don’t even break a sweat, you are not really exercising optimally.  You want to feel like you are working harder than if you were just walking around the park.  You should aim to be in your target heart rate.  Ideally, you should be between 60 and 80% of your max heart rate.  (refer to chart highlighted above) There is much debate about the intensity of a workout.  Peruse some of my old blog articles on this topic and plan on more to come.

3. You should exercise as many days of your life as possible.  OK, that may sound vague, but exercise should be something you do regularly through the course of your life.  If you exercise 2 times a week, that isn’t really much considering there are 7 days in a week.  We’re talking barely 30% of your life..not much.  Three days is the minimum, but 3 is good.  3 is better than 2.  3 is reasonable for a lot of people with very busy lives.  4, of course, is even better.  For general health, 3 to 4 will suffice.  For weight loss, kick it up a notch.  However, if you have a hard time exercising (or should I say getting in the habit) and 3 to 4 is what you can do, it is better than nothing.  Keep doing it!  for more tips click here.

4.  Pick activities that will not injure your body or aggravate current conditions.  You may need a trainer for this one.  If you have arthritis in your knees, please don’t do squats and leg extensions.  No. No. NO!  Be mindful of your body.  Now, that doesn’t mean don’t use your knees.  In fact, exercise is very good for arthritis.  It just means don’t do an exercise that puts too much pressure on the sensitive body part. 

5.  Don’t be afraid to try new things!  If you feel you are getting bored or are not "sweating" enough, try something else. 

6.  Don’t be afraid of intensity.  Now I state this assuming you are in good health.  If you have any health issues, such as a heart condition or are obese, please be careful and work your way up slowly.  However, many are afraid to exert themselves.  When their heart rate rises they panic.  Again, assuming you are of normal health, your heart rate is supposed to rise.  That IS exercise. 

7.  Work your way up.  If you are used to a treadmill and you try out the elliptical and feel you have never worked so hard in your life and can’t last more than 2 minutes.  DON’T GIVE UP ON THAT MACHINE!  Do it for 2 minutes and then finish your workout on the treadmill.  Each week, try to add more time on the machine, maybe in 30 second or 1 minute increments each week.  It is really challenging your body to do this and that is a good thing.

8.  Hire a certified and educated personal trainer.  Unless you want to be an athlete or get "buff", you don’t have to see them forever.  A few sessions to get you going will do.  Think of it this way $300 for 5 or 6 sessions with a trainer is much cheaper that hundreds of $15 co-pays for all the medications you will be on throughout the aging years of your life because you chose not to take care of yourself.

9.  No Coffee Breaks.  Don’t stop every 5 minutes to chat with a friend.  Go to the gym, get on your machine and focus on your activity.  Work out to the best of your ability for 30 to 60 minutes.  Then socialize, if you need to, and go home.

10.  Don’t be a Wimp!  If you are 55 years old, have diabetes, arthritis and a broken toe, please don’t start taking power aerobics…take it easy and see your doctor for exercise recommendations.  However, there are many who don’t exert themselves enough.  Know your limits.

11.  Finally, Have a Positive Attitude.  The best way to get the most out of your workout is to know (which we all know) that exercise is good for you.  You need it.  Be grateful you can exercise and have some control over your life and your health. Don’t take an able body for granted.  There are many who are physically incapable of exercising and moving the way they want to move.  Be happy, yes HAPPY, to have the physical body that allows you to exercise and put on a happy face.  Be glad you are exercising. 

[2] The Free Dictionary

About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

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