Find A Good Exercise Program

Learn how to choose an exercise program that is right for you.

Many people today are overweight and never exercise regularly; most of them also suffer from three out of four chronic health problems: arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, or diabetes. The most important physiological benefit of exercise is that it helps maintain heart and lung fitness. This article discusses how exercise lowers hypertension, prevents loss of muscle mass and reduces body fat; and helps maintain ideal body weight. People with hypertension should consult their physician before starting any form of exercise because even mild exercise temporarily raises blood pressure. Proper exercise can be beneficial even for people with a number of illnesses, including hypertension and diabetes, but a vigorous exercise program should not be undertaken without first consulting a physician or health practitioner.

Before starting an exercise program, it is important that people determine their current health status. Those who have been inactive for a number of years or have a diagnosed illness should consult their physician first. It is wise that all potential exercisers undergo a complete physical examination before embarking on a regular training program. It is important to remember that people should never exceed their capacity for exercise, or serious injury can result. Similarly, people who consistently overexercise can become sore and tired, and actually end up in worse condition than before they started. Most importantly, many experts now warn that overexercise can precipitate a heart attack, even in apparently healthy individuals. Another precaution to keep in mind is to drink water or other non-sugar liquids while exercising, particularly during hot weather.

While people of all ages should exercise to maintain good health, the type of exercise varies for different age groups. Not all forms of exercise are equally beneficial for every individual. In aerobic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling, rhythmic contraction and relaxation of flexor and extensor muscle groups occur, which promotes blood flow through the arteries to and from the heart. At the right pace, such activities can be continued for long periods. In isometric exercises--in which muscles are held in contraction for prolonged periods, such as in weight lifting--the sustained contraction limits blood flow by compressing the small arteries, and fails to help pump blood back to the heart. Moreover, the acute increase of blood pressure associated with isometrics can be very hazardous to people with heart disease or high blood pressure.



The most important physiological benefit of exercise is that it helps maintain heart and lung fitness. As the heart becomes less efficient with age, oxygen is thus delivered to the muscles more slowly. The respiratory system, including the lungs, provides the body with oxygen and removes carbon dioxide via tiny air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. Exercise increases the size of the heart muscle and its chamber volume, and greatly improves its efficiency; both the pumping of the heart and the functioning of the arteries affect blood pressure.

Exercise lowers hypertension (high blood pressure): Diastolic blood pressure rises with age by as much as 10 per cent between the ages of 60 and 70. Poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, and an increasing intake of medications generally combine to increase blood pressure in the elderly. As a result, the heart has to pump harder than normal because of an excess of fluid in the bloodstream combined with narrowed or constricted arteries. Along with stress reduction therapies such as yoga, meditation, hypnosis, and biofeedback, regular sustained exercise effectively lowers blood pressure. The best exercises, according to clinical trials, are those that reduce the level of stress hormones in the bloodstream that constrict the arteries and veins. Progressive weight lifting, walking or jogging three times a week for 20 minutes, stationary bicycling, and a combination of walking, jogging, and bike riding have all been found to lower blood pressure. As people age, they can lose as much as 10 to 12 per cent of their muscle mass with no appreciable loss in overall body weight. In fact, they normally gain weight.

The benefits of exercise in helping people lose weight or maintain their ideal body weight have been extensively documented in many studies. Exercise burns calories consumed as food, and raises the basal metabolic rate. In order for an individual to lose weight, energy intake must be less than energy expenditure. This can be done by decreasing calorie intake (dieting) or by increasing the rate at which the calories are burned (exercise). Exercise not only helps control weight gain, but it also plays an important role in improving glucose tolerance and reducing insulin resistance - both significant factors in the development of diabetes. Glucose tolerance is a measure of the body's ability to metabolize glucose as it is released into the bloodstream. This ability usually declines with ages. Since insulin's ability to convert glucose in the cells is also reduced, glucose can gradually increase to dangerous levels in the bloodstream. Increased muscle activity, however, accelerates the transport of glucose into muscle cells regardless of the presence of insulin, thereby helping to compensate for insulin resistance. Consequently, exercise can sometimes be a useful tool for controlling type II diabetes. It may also forestall the serious complications of the disease.

Choosing the right exercise and the amount of exercise you need, will depend on your goals. In order to achieve a training effect and thereby cardiorespiratory fitness, you'll need to perform aerobic exercise three to five times a week. Depending on how fit you already are and how intensely you exercise, each session should last at least 60 minutes, which includes the warm-up and cool-down activities you perform. Exercising less than this will not help you achieve an adequate training effect for fitness. On the other hand, recent studies have indicated that it isn't necessary to exercise at a high training intensity to reap certain health benefits. Walking--fast becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise today--requires no special skills or equipment and can be stopped at any time without danger.

Brisk walking--which offers virtually the same health and fitness benefits as running or jogging, but without stress to the joints and risk of injury-- has become a favorite exercise for many.

Regular, moderate-intensity endurance exercises such as 30 minutes of walking every day can reduce mild to moderate hypertension, and help people avoid getting high blood pressure. A good pair of walking shoes is absolutely essential. Experts suggest that beginners start with a simple 10-minute walk at any speed, five minutes out and five minutes back. During the second week, build up to 15 minutes a day. By the third week, increase to 20 minutes a day. And by the fourth week, continue to walk 20 minutes a day, but after warming up with a slow stroll for five minutes, pick up the pace until eventually you are walking briskly, as if you are late for an appointment. End the exercise by slowing your pace back down to a stroll, then cool down with passive stretching, and drink at least 2 glasses of water. Walkers will see immediate results in three to four weeks in the form of more strength and firmness in their legs. By the end of eight weeks, they will begin to lose body fat.

Other forms of exercise include aerobic dancing, rowing, cross-country skiing, swimming, bicycling, and tennis.

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