Exercise: The proper prescription

Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2010

Editor's note: "Focus on Fitness" is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Check here weekly great information and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

It is well documented that exercise is good medicine. As with any medicine, the proper prescription is essential to maintain safety and gain the benefits you are after. This can be a complicated undertaking for some people. For others a basic prescription is just what the doctor ordered.

If you have not participated in an exercise program for a long period of time or you have special health concerns, you should consult a physician before beginning a program. Serious injury or even death can occur if a person participates in physical activity their body is not prepared for.

If you are training for a high level athletic competition, difficult recreational activity or a specialized sport position you must participate in a much more intense program to meet your goals. You may need to consult a coach, trainer, or programs available online to get the right mix of exercises. Most likely you will need to revamp your diet to reach the highest level of fitness you can reach.

For the average person a mix of strength, aerobic and flexibility exercises will get the results they are after. There are basic guidelines for these exercises as they relate to duration, intensity and frequency. Following these guidelines will help ensure a positive experience with your exercise program and net the desired results. Reducing the consumption of processed foods and increasing consumption of raw unprocessed foods will compliment any exercise program.

Before beginning a workout session warm up for about 5 minutes through walking, jogging or using a machine at a low intensity. Repeat this process at the end of a workout for a warm down. You may want to incorporate some flexibility exercises into your warm up/warm down.

Strength exercises should be done two to three days a week. A variety of muscle groups should be worked to provide a full body workout, upper body, lower body and core. Exercises should be done until you reach overload, that burning feeling in the muscle group being worked. The number of reps to reach overload should be 10-12 for the upper body and 15-20 for the lower body. Adjust resistance as needed. For core exercises do as many reps as it takes to reach overload. It will take about 20 minutes to do a full body strength workout if you do one set of each exercise. Get online or use a book to find a variety of exercises to develop your routine.

Aerobic exercise should be done three to six days a week. You should exercise at an elevated heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes. If you are unable to jog, run, bike, swim, etc. at a high enough intensity to elevate your heart rate to 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, you will need to increase the duration of the workout to 40 to 60 minutes in order to gain desired benefits. Your maximum heart rate is determined by subtracting your age from 220.

Flexibility exercises should be done three to seven days a week. A variety of muscle groups in the upper and lower body should be stretched to improve overall flexibility. A stretch should be held at least 20 seconds. You should avoid bouncing and while you should feel a stretch, do not push the stretch to the point of pain. For better results lengthen the stretch after 20 to 30 seconds and hold for another 20 to 30 seconds. You may want to incorporate some stretches into your warm up and warm down routines. It will take about 10 to 20 minutes to get a full body stretch out in.

Keep a log of your exercise sessions and watch your workouts add up, it is a great motivator. Any exercise is better than none. Do what you can today and try to fit more in tomorrow.

Look for new ways to get your workouts in. Outdoor activities are perhaps the best workouts because they get you outside which is beneficial in its own right. The opportunities on the Kenai Peninsula for outdoor activities are endless.

Again, these guidelines are for a basic fitness program, not for a person with special health concerns or one with very high fitness goals. Keep in mind it takes six to eight weeks to make significant gains in fitness, so stick with it. As your fitness improves you may want to increase the duration, intensity and/or frequency of your workouts to continue to make gains. However, you may choose to simply maintain your current fitness level.

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. teacher and owner/operator of Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. He can be reached at ccstephens@gci.net.

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