The amount of recommended exercise can sound intimidating at first. Don't let it stop you. Start your exercise program slowly and work up to the recommended amount. No matter what shape you are in now, within a couple months, you'll be delighted with your progress. Stay with it.
Walking is excellent at the beginning of your exercise program. As you progress, however, we urge you to add in more strenuous exercise that gives you more cardio/aerobic benefits and that releases those uplifting endorphins. Walking alone won't give you that lift. That's why it's called the “runner's high,” not the “walker's high!” However, if you speed walk while sustaining a moderately elevated heart rate as indicated above for 20 minutes or more, you could indeed, benefit from the runner's high by walking.
Over the past 20 years the term “cardio” has gradually replaced the term “aerobic,” but we're going to use them interchangeably. The basic premise is simple: you need to exercise vigorously enough to speed up your heart rate and keep it up for at least 20 minutes. Why 20 minutes? Because it takes at least that long for your heart to work hard enough for you to experience cardiovascular and endorphin benefits.
That's right, get your heart rate up and keep it up for at least 20 minutes per session, ideally daily. Huff and puff a little. Break out in a sweat. Burn energy. Move fast. Vigorous aerobic exercise for 45 minutes every other day is a good alternative.
Cardio builds your endurance, strengthens your heart, and increases your lung capacity. It releases endorphins, those wonderful mood-elevating brain chemicals. Exercise is one time when harnessing the power of drugs is fine because your body is making them. They're legal; they're free; and in fact, they're a natural high that your body is meant to enjoy. Read Exercise and Your Health for more information the health benefits of exercise.
You've got a lot of choices for the cardio/aerobic part of your workout. Choose one or more that you can do every day or every other day. They don't need to be fancy or elaborate. If you have a stationary bike, just schedule yourself to start peddling. Your simple goal is to elevate your heart rate for 20 minutes or more. At clubs and fitness centers, you can watch television. Listen to music on headphones, or read while you work up a sweat on the various cardio machines. However you do it, get your cardio exercise.
Here are target heart rates based on your age. Choose the age closest to yours. Try to keep your heart rate between the minimum and maximum for the duration of your cardio workout.
Measure your heart rate this way: Count your pulse by touching your fingers to the opposite wrist or to the pulse point in your neck. Count beats for 6 seconds. Multiply by 10 and that is your heart rate. If your heart rate stays close to the minimum target range for your age, increase your exercise session beyond 20 minutes or pick up the pace.
Here are some super choices for cardio/aerobic exercise:
Biking. Bike either outdoors on a street bike or mountain bike or indoors on a stationary bike. It's terrific for low-stress, high-intensity aerobic fitness. Your only cost is the cost of your equipment—a stationary bike or one for the outdoors.
Classes. A vast variety of aerobic fitness classes are available: step classes, aerobic dancing classes, spinning classes, power pump classes, and classes like Jazzercise. Fitness classes are widely available at health clubs, studios, and local recreation centers.
Cardio equipment. These include treadmills, cross-country-skiing machines, elliptical trainers, stepping machines, and rowing machines. Most health and fitness facilities offer all of these and more. Find the ones you like the best and start moving. Many motels and hotels provide an exercise room with equipment, so you can exercise easily when you travel.
Cardio/aerobic videotapes. Hundreds of good routines are available on video and DVD. Videos let you exercise at home without having to go out and can save you time.
Swimming. Swimming is great exercise, either indoors or outdoors, and indoor pools make swimming a year-round option. The expense involved is a health club or pool membership. Swimming also elongates muscles; we like that.
Walking. Plain old walking can count as cardio/aerobic exercise if you can get your heart rate up to the moderate level or higher. But to do that, a casual stroll won't work. You've got to walk fast. We have friends who walk outdoors in good weather and who walk in shopping malls when it's raining or snowing. Some walkers enhance their workout by wearing shoes with weighted soles. These improve muscle tone in the lower body and increase the amount of physical energy expended. Sandy wears weighted shoes during work hours at the hospital. She finds them a great way to intensify her walking throughout the day. Plus she enjoys the lower-body firming from wearing them. Avoid using ankle weights when you walk or climb stairs. They put too much stress on the ankle and knee joints and can cause harm.
Jogging, running, and race walking. Purchase a good pair of shoes and go enjoy the outdoors. Unlike noisy gym classes, these activities give you an opportunity to take in beautiful scenery and off-street trails as you get fit and burn fat.
Rebounding using a mini trampoline or rebounder boots. These give you a bouncing effect—kind of like bouncing on a pogo stick. Rebounding gets your endorphins flowing faster than many other forms of cardio/aerobic exercise, and it feels great. Some research shows that rebounding can be detoxifying for the body (great!) because it may stimulate the flow of lymph fluid. We like the rebounding boots for both jogging outside and doing aerobic dancing indoors.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. 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.
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