A regular physical exercise program can lower your risk of heart disease and some cancers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And exercise can also improve your mental health and help prevent early death. In other words, exercise can help you live a longer and healthier life. So what are you waiting for?
Your Exercise Program: Getting Started
If you’ve never followed an exercise program before, it’s best to start gradually. If you have any medical issues or physical disabilities, or if you are significantly overweight, you should talk to your doctor first. It’s important to figure out what type of program is best for you before you get started. Many fitness facilities have trainers who can show you how to begin exercising safely.
“I decided to go with a personal trainer,” says Tivey. “She made sure I was doing the exercises correctly so I didn’t hurt myself.”
If you can afford a personal trainer, this professional can offer many advantages, like helping you define your fitness goals, designing a personalized exercise program to help you achieve them, and keeping you motivated.
Your Exercise Program: Key Components
Three types of exercise should be included in a complete exercise program: aerobic exercise,strength training, and flexibility training. You don’t necessarily need to do each type at each session, but they all belong in your exercise plan.
- Aerobic exercise. This is exercise that uses large muscle groups, is repetitive, and lasts long enough to get your heart and lungs working harder than usual. Some examples of aerobic exercise are dancing, biking, running, and swimming. A key benefit of aerobic training is that it increases oxygen use and helps with blood circulation to all of your muscles, including your heart.
- Strength training. Designed to build muscle and increase strength, these exercises target muscle groups in the arms, legs, chest, and stomach, using free weights, weight machines, push-ups, or sit-ups. Strength training has been shown to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass and metabolism, and it may improve blood pressure. Just be sure to allow a day off between strength training sessions to give your muscles time to recover.
- Flexibility training. Stretching and range of motion exercises both work to increase flexibility. For older women, this type of exercise is integral to staying limber and for preventing stiffness. Stretching is something you can do every day without any equipment, though many women enjoy taking yoga classes for this purpose. You should also include stretches as part of the cool-down period after strength training and aerobics because muscles need to be warm in order to best stretch them. Advantages of improved flexibility include better balance, better range of motion, and reduced risk of injury.
Your Exercise Program: How Much, How Often
Research shows that if you are physically active for at least 7 hours a week, your risk for premature death is 40 percent less than that of someone who is inactive. Another study has shown that post-menopausal women who were overweight made significant gains in their physical and mental health by being active for just 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. (Of course, the more active you are, the better the potential results.)
If you have the time and ability, aim for a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, and do strength training at least two days per week.] If you can include more time in your exercise program the benefits will increase, but remember that even a modest exercise program is better than nothing.