Research shows that those who are physically active are likely to live longer, healthier lives.
As a result of widespread inactivity among Americans, obesity is becoming more of a trigger for health problems and increased health spending than smoking or drinking.
Physical activity can lead to many benefits:
- Healthy Weight maintenance
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved glucose regulation
- Stronger bone density
Also, a person who has hypertension, diabetes or a history of smoking can greatly benefit from including regular physical activity into his or her daily routine.
The First Step
If you are over 40 years of age, inactive or have health issues, consult a physician before you begin an exercise program.
Test Your Fitness Level
To test your fitness level during your school-age years, perhaps you participated in the President’s Physical Fitness Test, which measured performance and health-related fitness abilities. As an adult, you can take a similar test to determine where your health could improve. Log on to www.adultfitnesstest.org for instructions on how to perform each step of the challenge. Here is a guide to the main components of the test.
Aerobic fitness relates to how well your heart, blood vessels and lungs work together to deliver blood to your muscles during exercise. A high level of aerobic fitness lowers your risk of several diseases, including coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. To test your aerobic fitness, choose to:
Engage in a one-mile walk on a treadmill or track. Measure your heart rate at the end of the test.
Engage in a 1½-mile run on a treadmill (at zero incline) or on a track. Measure your heart rate at the end of the test.
Muscle Strength and Endurance
Muscle strength and endurance is critical for completing everyday tasks (such as housecleaning) and maintaining a healthy physique as you age. To test your muscle strength and endurance:
Perform the Half Sit-up Test. On a fitness mat, place four strips of tape three and a half inches apart. Lie face-up on the mat with your knees at right angles and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the floor with your palms facing downward and your fingers touching the first piece of tape. Then, flatten your back to the mat and do a half sit-up so that your fingers move from the first piece of tape to the second piece. Return your shoulders to the mat and repeat the movement. Count the number of sit-ups performed in one minute.
Perform the Standard or Modified Push-up Test. Men should push their bodies up and down using the muscles in the arms, shoulders and chest. Women can allow their knees to touch the floor to act as a pivot point, or they can perform traditional push-ups. Individuals should lower their chests until they are two inches from the ground and then rise up again. Perform the test until you cannot do any more push-ups while keeping your back straight.
These tests indicate abdominal and upper-body strength, which is crucial in preventing injuries.
Being able to move freely is important for joint health as well as being able to walk, lift and step normally. To measure flexibility:
Perform the Sit-and-reach Test. Place a yardstick on a mat and put a long piece of tape over the 15-inch mark perpendicular to the stick, taping it in place. Then, remove your shoes and sit on the mat with the yardstick between your legs, with 0 being closest to your groin. Your heels should be at the 14-inch mark at the start of the test. Slowly stretch forward with both hands as far as possible and note where your fingertips reach to the closest inch. Exhale when you stretch forward and drop your head to allow you to stretch further. Perform this test three times and record the best measurement.
Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference are good indicators of being overweight or obese, which correlates to the risk of disease and death. To calculate your body composition:
BMI: Measure your height and weight. Then log into www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm to calculate your BMI. As a rule, those with a BMI under 18.5 are underweight; those between 18.5 and 24.9 are normal weight; those between 25 and 29.9 are overweight; those over 30 are obese.
Waist circumference: Stand upright and have your partner wrap a tape measure around your abdomen above your hip bones. Pull the tape measure so that it is snug without compressing the skin. Record the measurement in inches.
After you have completed all of these tests, log into www.adultfitnesstest.org again to input your results. The website will then tell you how fit you are.
Creating Your Fitness Program
There are three main components to a well-balanced program of physical activity: aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility training.
Commitment to a regular physical activity program is more important than the intensity of your workouts. Choose exercises you are likely to pursue and enjoy, such as these activities:
- Stair climbing
- Cross-country skiing
Healthy aerobic training should be performed three to five days per week with a minimum of 20 minutes per day. Remember, if your schedule is tight, it is better to exercise for a shorter period of time than not at all.
Strength training is another option. Strength training should be done two to three times per week, and is performed with free weights or weight machines.
For the purposes of general training, two to three upper body and lower body exercises should be done. Abdominal exercises are an important part of strength training as well.
Flexibility training is important too, but it is frequently neglected, resulting in increased tightness as you age and become less active. Stretching is most safely done with sustained gradual movements lasting a minimum of 15 seconds per stretch. At a minimum, strive to stretch every day.