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The Fitness Pyramid

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Eighty-Five percent of Americans recognize that regular physical activity is important to good health, but only 40-percent 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 dilemma 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 Pyramid".

Here is how you can climb the fitness pyramid:

Aerobic activity 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-percent of your maximum heart rate (Maximum heart rate equals 220 minus 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 injury.

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.

Lifting barbells 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.

Standing forward stretch 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, 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.

See also:
Walking Your Way to Fitness Training Manual (Free)
Fitness, Weightloss and Nutrition Heath Tools
Health and Fitness Brochures
Diet and Fitness FAQ's
Introduction to Physical Fitness
Four Step Fitness Test
The Simple Facts of Physical Fitness
Physical Fitness Means Living Better, Longer

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