Congratulations. You’ve decided that you’ve waited long enough and now you’re gonna do something about getting in shape. You know the basics: break your sedentary habits, burn more calories than you consume, don’t skip meals (so that your metabolism will stay in gear) and EXERCISE! The question is: what are you going to do for exercise?
The good news is that the science of cardiovascular exercise is well researched and solid. You need to raise your heart rate using your large muscles and through some activity that continually keeps it elevated for a set amount of time. That time will be determined by your level of fitness but, as a rule of thumb, you need about 5 minutes to warm up and get the heart rate into the proper target range. Most beginners should try to maintain this intensity level for 10-20 minutes. Then it’s important to take about 5 more minutes to cool down and allow your heart to slowly return to its resting rate. Added together, a beginner to an aerobic exercise routine will be doing 20-30 minutes per workout – which is great for strengthening the heart and burning some fat calories. Remember to begin with a reasonable goal and at a level you can maintain. It won’t do you any good at all to go “full out” in your first workout and then need 3 or 4 days to recover. Sure, workout longer if you want, but 20 minutes as an initial goal will bring you good results.
Speaking of getting results, what is the best type of equipment to use for this aerobic workout? Maybe a co-worker recommended an elliptical machine but then your neighbor said he only uses a rowing machine and it’s the best. To make things more confusing, you talked to a personal trainer at your church and he told you not to workout indoors on equipment but to hit the streets and run; he said that’s always worked for him and it’s also free. The truth is, there really is one “best answer” for the question of what type of exercise will work for you. The answer is that you should do the type of exercise that you can stick with! To clarify, ALL of the people mentioned above are correct – because they all know what works for them. Simply go back to the basic science of raising the heart rate and maintaining that heart rate for a productive period of time. It really makes little difference whether it’s jumping a rope, climbing stairs or running on a treadmill in your home. You’ll have to weigh things such as personal interest (do you actually like to do the activity), injuries/aches and pains, availability, etc. But all these exercises accomplish the same basic thing. Don’t get wrapped up in muscle groups worked or the newest infomercial invention that claims to yield the greatest results. Aerobic conditioning by definition means using any number of large muscles on a regular basis for an extended period of time per session – so get something natural feeling that you can see yourself doing day in and day out.
You’re getting closer in your drive to make some changes. You’ve finalized your choice and picked something that doesn’t aggravate your bad knee and that you feel you could get used to using regularly. You made sure it’s something easily accessible to you because you don’t want any excuse to skip your workout. You’ve picked a convenient time in the day with the fewest interruptions and you’ve set aside your 20-30 minutes. So now you’ve done a few workouts…but it’s boring and 20 minutes feels like an hour. What can you do now? First off, hang in there! As soon as you see some results you’ll become more motivated to continue. That 20-30 minutes sure goes by faster when everyone’s telling you how good you’re looking or you’re seeing pounds disappear on the scale weekly. The “chore” of working out becomes much more inviting at this point. There are also several things you can do to make time go faster and keep yourself entertained. Try these tips:
1. Listen to motivating, upbeat music. A fast cadence keeps you moving at a calorie burning pace.
2. Watch TV or a movie. An entertaining TV show or movie will grab your attention and will make time fly – just like when you’re watching from the couch. Only now, your “TV time” comes with health and fitness benefits! I knew one guy who would select a really intense action movie that he’d plan to watch 30 minutes of and then turn off until the next workout. It would keep him in suspense each day and he’d get about 3 workouts out of it, each one longer than he’d originally expected. Another person told me she liked to put in DVDs of concerts or music videos to add a visual element to the music. That way your entertainment will become even more absorbing and you’ll forget that you’re actually exercising.
3. Play games on your technology phone. Whether it’s a card game or Angry Birds or Candy Crush or whatever; it will divert your attention from the fact that you’re working to make progress toward your fitness goals.
Competitive people will find it motivating to use exercise statistics as goals for future workouts. For example, try to increase your workout time 1 minute each day as a goal early on. Maybe you can try to increase your calorie expenditure from 200 to 220 in 30 minutes; this takes more effort in the same time frame. Perhaps you can increase your distance covered in a given time. Or maybe you’ll have an increased heart rate goal as you make progress. Regardless of the goal, if you strive for greater personal statistics then you will undoubtedly be increasingly productive in your workouts.
The greatest challenge a person faces when beginning an aerobic exercise routine is making it a habit. When you can overcome that and your exercise routine becomes a consistent part of your day, it’s really no different than taking a shower or brushing your teeth – you’ll do it more or less automatically. Try using some of the guidelines mentioned above and you will soon develop this habit and see positive results. Keep in mind that a 30 minute workout consumes only about 2% of the time you have available each day. Be determined to make that small investment and you’ll reap tremendous rewards in fitness and health.