The Fitness Pyramid

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by Jeni

Eighty-Five percent of Americans recognize that
regular physical activity is important to good health, but
only 40% lead active lives. It is very difficult for many
of us to get started on a regular exercise program. We
all know it is best for us, we all know we would feel
better, yet we continue to procrastinate. A very common
dilemna is the time factor. However, if you think long
and hard you will likely find you do have some time - if
you give up something else, such as that one hour soap
opera you tape everyday. Alternatively, you could decide
to exercise while watching that one hour program. When you
get right down to it, there truly is no good excuse. On
that note, following are some guidelines for you to help
you ease into an exercise routine that fits comfortably
into your life.

Think of physical activity as a pyramid. Start with a basic
level of activity -- walking, housework, yardwork, etc.
Then you work your way upward through a variety of more
challenging activities. We will call this the "fitness

Here is how you can climb the fitness pyramid:

Level 1: Enjoy an active lifestyle
Get physically active. Your activity doesn't have to be
organized or continuous -- 10 minutes of walking and 20
minutes of housework truly do add up.

By accumulating just 30 minutes of activity a day, you slow
or stop the loss of function that comes with a sedentary
lifestyle. You also increase your chances of living longer
and improving your quality of life.

Level 2: Do aerobic workouts
Now that exercise is a part of your life, build regular
workouts into your routine. An effective aerobic program
includes at least 20 minutes of continuous, rhythmic
activity three or more times a week. Consider walking,
jogging, cycling or aerobic dancing. Exercise at an
intensity that elevates your heart rate into the target
zone of 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate (Maximum
heart rate = 220 - your age).

You can exercise outdoors or in a gym using exercise
equipment such as treadmills, stationary bikes and cross-
country ski machines.

Your routine should be enjoyable and comfortable. Increase
intensity and duration gradually. This will help you avoid

By challenging your cardiovascular system, you begin to
actively fight the effects of aging and reduce your risk of
heart disease and other degenerative conditions.

Level 3: Start strength training
Adding weight training to your workout gives you the
benefits you can't get with aerobic exercise alone. It
protects and builds lean muscle mass; promotes healthier,
stronger bones; and raises your body's metabolism so you
burn fat faster -- even while you're resting.

A typical weight-lifting routine should include 8 to 12
exercises targeting all the major muscle groups. Do up to 3
sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. Schedule at
least two strength sessions a week with at least a day of
rest in between.

Level 4: Stretch to increase your flexibility
Inactive muscles become shorter, and their range of motion
gets more limited. Reverse that process by doing gentle
stretching exercises before and after workouts and at other
times during the week.

A five to ten minute routine should include all the major
muscle groups. Do static stretches that ease you into
position, then hold them for 15 to 30 seconds.

Flexibility training prepares our bodies for the tasks we
perform throughout the day, such as lifting and reaching.
You dramatically reduce your risk of back problems when you
increase your flexibility.

Level 5 (the pinnacle): Compete for peak performance
Getting involved in competive recreational sports isn't
essential for fitness, Zwiefel says, but it increases many
people's enjoyment of an active lifestyle. That
psychological benefit pays off physically.

If a sport challenges you and engages your mind, you're
going to stick with it. Find something you do well and
enjoy and most important of all, have fun with exercise.
It does not have to feel like work.


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