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What's an Appropriate Exercise Program?

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How Long, How Much, How Hard?

The following guidelines have been set by the American College of Sports Medicine:

  • How long: 20–60 minutes of aerobic activity per session
  • How much: 3–5 times per week
  • How hard: Low-to-moderate intensity or 60–90 percent of your maximum heart rate

Beginners should start with a modest game plan. In fact, beginners need to shoot for 40 percent of their maximum heart rate and work up from there. As you improve, you can do more activity by going longer, harder, or more frequently. But keep in mind that you should only increase the length, frequency, and intensity one at a time. Increasing all three at once is the perfect recipe for injuries and exercise burnout.

Cooling Down

The goal of a cool-down is to gradually stop the activity, allowing your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature to slowly return to normal. Think about how rapidly your heart is pounding and blood is pumping following an intense bout of exercise—not a good time to hit the shower. In fact, stopping an intense workout abruptly is a sure way to get dizzy and feel terrible after a workout. Furthermore, cooling down properly can help prevent serious health risks for older or out-of-shape participants. Take an extra 5–10 minutes and slowly reduce the intensity of the exercise you've been working on. Your body will thank you.


Stretching is definitely important for maintaining and increasing flexibility, which in turn makes it easier for you to move around. The best time to stretch is when your body is warm, either after you have done a light aerobic warm-up or, more preferably, at the end of your workout following a cool-down period. Proper stretching allows the muscles to relax and lengthen, and it can even help alleviate some built-up body tension. What's more, it might also aid in the removal of waste products, such as lactic acid. This can prevent injury and improve muscle tone.

Some general stretching guidelines include

  • Always get your blood pumping and body warmed up before you stretch.
  • Stretch all your major muscle groups (not just the ones you think were used).
  • Hold each stretch for at least 15 seconds; never bounce. You can still feel a good stretch with slightly bent knees.
  • Only stretch to the point of mild tension, not agonizing pain!
  • Ask a qualified trainer to show you the correct stretching techniques; there's a lot more to it than touching your toes.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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