From mere minutes a week to hours each day, just how much exercise the average person needs to stay fit and healthy remains the topic of heated debate. In 1996 the United States surgeon general told us that everybody needs thirty minutes of daily exercise, while last month a report from the Nation Academy of Science called for an hour a day of physical activity (See related article). This is in sharp contrast to the twenty minutes a WEEK advocated by some slow motion exercise enthusiasts.
Opposing view points and uncertainty is in no way confined to how long we should train, but also spills over to how we should train. Is it most important to lift weights or jog, and what about flexibility exercises- is it necessary to stretch? Indoor or outdoor, machines or free weights, yoga or calisthenics - the choices are endless, and so is the confusion and misinformation.
New and sometimes improved guidelines will always emerge, and the experts will usually disagree on most of them. But when it comes to taking care of your body, the best advice is stay middle-of-the-road, using a fitness plan that's been proven to work over a long period of time. Anything that's too extreme is probably just hype, a waste of time, and potentially dangerous.
Before jumping in feet first, take a close look at what you want exercise to do for you. This will make choosing the type of exercise you do most often a very simple process. A balanced program that addresses all the elements of fitness is important. However, within certain established guidelines, you have a choice and a way to control how exercise affects your body.
What do you want most from your exercise program? I want to:
- Burn fat - most efficiently accomplished through aerobic activities such as walking, jogging or swimming, but also achieved through the acquisition of lean muscle mass as seen with strength training. Read more about increasing muscle mass to burn fat (See Related Article)
- Build muscle - the best way to build muscle and change the shape of your body is with strength or resistance exercises like squats, bench presses, or push ups performed with a progressive resistance
- Build strength and endurance - the most effective way to build lasting strength and endurance is with an intelligently applied combination of aerobic and strength training
- Improve overall health - achieve and maintain overall health and reduce the risk of certain diseases with a the proper mix of aerobic, strength and flexibility training
A fitness plan consisting of some aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises is put together in a logical sequence, with varying degrees of duration, frequency, and intensity assigned to each area. It's imperative that you take the time to learn about, and develop a functional understanding of each one.
For example, you need to learn how often, how long, and how hard you should walk, jog, or swim in order to get optimum fat burning results, and careful consideration needs to be given to whatever strength training is incorporated into the program.
Strength, or resistance training is a powerful tool that will make your body grow stronger. It's really the only way to change your physical shape. If not done right, strength training will be ineffective or worse yet, harmful. When resistance exercises are done at an extreme level, or improperly performed, illness or injury is likely. The key to successful strength training is to learn how to challenge your muscles in a safe manner.
Flexibility exercises can balance the effect of powerful muscle contractions encountered during more intense aerobic or strength sessions. The addition of a solid flexibility program enhances physical fitness, as it increases overall strength, power and performance.