1. Depree, Patricia PhD, ANP, CDE

Article Content

Regular physical activity can help you sleep better at night, strengthen your muscles and bones, lose weight, and have fun. It also can lessen the development and progression of chronic diseases and disabling conditions.


How do I start becoming more active?

First, check with your healthcare provider to make sure you can safely increase your physical activity. If you're not used to getting much exercise, don't overdo it. Start slow with low-intensity exercise, such as walking, for a few minutes. Exercise should be gentle and comfortable, not painful. As you become more fit, you can exercise harder, more often, or for a longer time. Your goal should be to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week, unless your healthcare provider recommends another goal for you.


What type of physical activity should I do?

Choose an activity you enjoy and plan a routine (a certain time of day and number of times per week) that suits your schedule. Your routine can include everyday activities, a structured exercise or sport, or a combination. You can get health benefits from brisk walking or household chores such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn, walking up stairs instead of taking elevators, walking or bicycling instead of driving short distances, getting off the bus a stop or two earlier, or parking your car farther away from building entrances. You can break up your 30 minutes of exercise into three 10-minute sessions per day.


Your 30 minutes should include moderate aerobic exercise (walking, running, swimming, bicycling), resistance training (lifting weights, yoga, push-ups, sit-ups), and stretching. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the heart. Resistance training increases muscle and bone strength. Stretching improves your flexibility and helps you avoid injury.


Start with a 5- to 10-minute warm-up (stretching, walking) and end with a 5-minute cool-down (stretching, walking), which lets your heart rate and breathing return to normal.


How do I know if I'm working hard enough?

When doing moderate aerobic activity, your heart rate should fall within a "target heart rate" (THR) to get the most benefit from the activity. Your THR should be between 50% and 70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). To figure out your MHR, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you're age 50, your MHR is 170 beats per minute:


220 - 50 = 170


To figure out your THR, multiply your MHR by 50% and 70%. For example, if you're 50:


170 x .50 = 85; 170 x .70 = 119


Using this example, your THR is between 85 and 119 beats per minute. When you're doing aerobic activity, stop periodically to take your pulse to see if your heart rate is within your THR.


To take your pulse, feel for the artery on your wrist in line with your thumb. Lightly press the tips of your index and middle fingers over the artery and count heartbeats for 30 seconds. Double this number to get your beats per minute. If your heartbeats aren't within your THR, try increasing the intensity of your physical activity.


How do I stay safe during physical activity?


* Don't exercise when you're sick or when weather is very hot, humid, or cold.


* Drink water before, during, and after physical activity, even if you don't feel thirsty.


* Call 911 if you feel lightheaded or dizzy during exercise, have trouble breathing, or experience pain in your chest, arms, throat, jaw, or back.