satisfying results, tailor your exercise routine to fit your
Consumer Reports, November, 2006
Most people who start exercising quit within six
they don't achieve the expected results. But instead of quitting,
exercisers may just need to tweak their routines.
The most recent exercise recommendations for all Americans--at least 30
minutes of moderate activity most days of the week--are based on the
minimum amount needed to promote overall health and prevent disease.
But simply getting the prescribed half-hour a day of something may not
yield the results you want if you're seeking a more specific goal, such
as losing weight, reducing stress, improving your sleep, or boosting
your aerobic capacity. What's more, exercise needs shift with age, as
strength, flexibility, and balance become more important.
This report offers guidance for adapting the current exercise
recommendations to six fitness-related goals. In some cases,you won't
even need to lengthen or intensify your workouts. Instead, you can just
change the activities you choose and how you allocate your exercise
Public-health experts agree that reducing the risk of chronic disease
requires doing moderately intense aerobic-style activity for at least a
half-hour on most days. Longer or more vigorous exercise may provide
further protection. In addition, experts say all adults should get at
least one session per week of strength training for the major muscle
groups (chest, arms, shoulders, abdominal, back, and legs), to protect
the bones and stave off the normal age-related decline in muscle mass.
And they should stretch at least every other day, ideally after
Moderately intense activity makes you breathe harder than usual but
still allows you to talk. Common examples include brisk walking,
swimming, cycling, and dancing, although some people may need easier or
harder activities. To find the right intensity for you, rate your
perceived exertion--how hard you feel you're working--on a scale of 1
(almost no effort) to 10 (nearly your maximum). Moderate exercise feels
like a 3 or 4.
The minutes don't have to be continuous. Three 10-minute bouts are
about as beneficial as one longer session, provided the total amount is
Longer aerobic sessions--at least 60 minutes of moderate activity most
days of the week.
Why: To lose weight, you must
burn a lot of calories.That means exercising longer, more vigorously,
or both. For many overweight people, it's hard to sustain vigorous
exercise long enough to burn sufficient calories. So it's generally
best to log more minutes at a moderate pace.
What to do: Start with the
minimum prescription for health benefits, then slowly build up to at
least an hour of moderate activity five or more days a week. To avoid
boredom or muscle fatigue, vary your activities from day to day or even
within a single session. For example, move from the treadmill to the
recumbent bike to the elliptical trainer.
Or try interval training, which also helps you burn more calories in
the same amount of time. That approach involves bursts of vigorous
exercise sandwiched between periods of easier exercise that allow your
body to recuperate.Try alternating 5 minutes of moderately paced
walking with 5 minutes at a faster speed. If you're in better shape,
alternate brisk walking with bursts of jogging.
The tweak: Incorporate some
mind-body exercises such as yoga or tai chi. And try applying
mindfulness--attention to the present moment--to your aerobic-style
Why: Yoga and related
exercises induce various physiological changes, including reduced blood
pressure and heart rate, that can counteract the harmful effects of
stress. Bringing focus and awareness to any exercise you do can enhance
the stress-relieving benefits, in part by blocking out distracting,
worrisome thoughts. And mind-body exercises help you learn other
relaxation techniques, such as deep abdominal breathing, that you can
use anytime. In addition, aerobic-style exercise has major benefits for
reducing stress, as well as for improving mood and easing moderate
anxiety and depression. Some people report feeling exhilarated after a
vigorous workout-- sometimes called a "runner's high."
What to do: For optimal
benefits, do some mind-body exercise as well as aerobic-style workouts.
Consider signing up for a local yoga, tai chi, or similar class. Or buy
a video for home workouts. You'll find many at:
The tweak: Do aerobic-style
exercise in the morning, stretching and relaxation at any time.
Why: Aerobic-style exercise,
particularly early in the day, can improve sleep in middle-aged or
older adults, who often have trouble falling or staying asleep. Experts
theorize that morning workouts may help adjust the internal clock that
governs the sleep-wake cycle. Stretching and other relaxation methods
at any time may also promote slumber. Longer aerobic-style workouts--an
hour or more--appear to provide the greatest benefits.
What to do: Since joints are
stiffest and muscles tightest just after you wake up, it's particularly
important to warm up and stretch briefly before morning workouts. Try
to do additional stretching or mind-body exercises (see "Reduce
Stress," above) after your aerobic-style workout or later in the day.
If you can't exercise in the morning, doing so in the afternoon or
early evening can also improve sleep.The most important thing may be to
find a time that's convenient and that you can stick with, our
consultants say. If weather permits, consider exercising outdoors,
where the exposure to daylight may further benefit sleep.
The tweak: Exercise faster or
Why: Aerobic (or
cardiovascular) fitness is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply
the muscles with enough oxygen during exertion--when you climb stairs
quickly, for example. Increasing such fitness requires a more vigorous
pace than recommended for health benefits or weight loss.
What to do: Aim for a total
of at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week.
Vigorous feels like a 6 to 8 on the 10-point perceived exertion scale
(though less-fit individuals should not go beyond 7). Beginners may
reach that level just by walking fast; others may need to jog, do
low-impact step aerobics, or walk on hilly terrain with light hand
weights, for example. Interval training (see "Lose Weight," above) can
help you incorporate more-vigorous activity. Note that if you're
sedentary and middle-aged or older, you should see a doctor before
starting an aerobic exercise program.
The tweak: Add one or two
additional sessions a week of strength training, plus further sets for
specific muscle groups if desired.
Why: Strength training can
help prevent osteoporosis and falls, boost endurance and athletic
performance, increase your calorie-burning rate, and improve your
What to do: For people younger
than age 60, three strength-training sessions per week provide maximum
improvement. But just two sessions a week can still generally provide
substantial benefits (and are better for older exercisers; see "Age
Healthfully," below). Start with a weight or other resistance
that lets you do just 8 repetitions per set (10 if you're out of shape)
for each major muscle group. Once you can comfortably do 12 reps (15 if
you're out of shape), gradually increase the resistance until you can
do just 8 again. Allow at least one day of recovery time between
For beginners, a single set of repetitions is enough for each major
muscle group. For those seeking more-sculpted muscles, studies1
that two sets work nearly as well as three. If you don't enjoy
traditional strength training, try Pilates or more-active forms of
yoga, such as Iyengar, all of which can yield some muscle-building
The tweak: Increase emphasis
on exercises for strength and flexibility, but with a somewhat gentler
Why: As you age, strength and
flexibility become increasingly crucial for preventing falls,
maintaining mobility, and doing everyday tasks. But older people need
more rest between strengthening sessions, and slightly lower-impact
activities to reduce the risk of injury or falls.
What to do: To squeeze in the
extra exercise, consider an activity like yoga or Pilates, which
incorporates stretching, strengthening, and balance. Otherwise,
strength-train twice a week, using somewhat lighter weights, more
repetitions (10 to 15 rather than 8 to 12), and more time (two days)
between sessions. At a minimum,do stretching exercises at least two to
three times per week, ideally after other exercise when your muscles
are warm. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds for each major muscle group.
And still aim for at least four aerobic-style workouts a week to
preserve or increase cardiovascular capacity. If brisk walking or other
weight-bearing exercise has become difficult, switch to water exercise.
For useful balance exercises, see:
Rhea MS, et
al. "A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength
development," Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, March 2003,
National Institute on Aging. "Fitness Over Fifty," New York: Healthy
Living Books, 2006.
King AC, et al. "Moderate-intensity exercise and self-rated quality of
sleep in older adults: A randomized controlled trial," Journal of the
American Medical Association, January 1997, pp. 32-37.
Michalsen A, et al. "Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among
distressed women as a consequence of a three-month intensive yoga
program," Medical Science Monitor, December 2005, pp. CR555-561.
Taylor-Piliae RE, et al. "Change in perceived psychosocial status
following a 12-week Tai Chi exercise programme," Journal of Advanced
Nursing, May 2006, pp. 313-329.
Tworoger, SS, et al. "Effects of a yearlong moderate-intensity exercise
and a stretching intervention on sleep quality in postmenopausal
women," Sleep, Nov. 1, 2003, pp. 830-6.
Youngstedt SD. "Effects of exercise on sleep," Clinics in Sports
Medicine, April 2005, pp. 355-365.
to customized workouts
Here's a summary of the basic exercise prescription, followed by the
adjustments needed to meet specific goals. For more details, see the
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Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.