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Healthy Living

Your results

If you rank below average on one or more of these tests, you probably will benefit from starting or increasing an exercise program, particularly in the areas where you've fallen short. If you rate about average for your age, there's probably room for improvement. Meeting the average is not necessarily enough, since U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data indicate that only 30 percent of people over age 18 get even light-to-moderate exercise five days a week. If your scores are above average, congratulate yourself but periodically assess whether your current fitness program is address all the key areas.

Whatever level you're currently at, following the exercise guidelines outlined below will help you optimize your fitness and avoid illness.

Aerobic Exercise

If your one-mile walk took longer than you wish, make sure you're getting enough heart-and lung-strengthening exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine and other medical organizations recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise most days of the week. The exercise doesn't have to be in one 30-minute burst, but make sure the mixture of activities you do throughout the day adds up to at least a half an hour. Of course, that's just a minimum; people who are in good shape or want to get fitter may need to exercise longer or harder than that.

Aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, swimming, bicycling and vigorous housecleaning and yard work helps strengthen your heart and lungs, prevents obesity, and lowers the risk of many illnesses. One study from the University of Minnesota, for example, found that men who walked or did similar exercise for just 20 minutes a day were 37 percent less likely to die of coronary disease than those who exercised less. Moderate exercise works by reducing coronary-disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, and by increasing your "good" HDL cholesterol levels. Weight-bearing exercise also can help prevent age-related bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis and fractures.

Stretching

Keeping the joints flexible permits pain-free bending and movement and helps avoid exercise injuries and soreness. Just 10 minutes a day of stretching promotes flexibility, keep muscles supple, and helps you relax. Stretching can be done before and after exercise routines, and worked into everyday activities. After lengthy periods of working at a desk or driving a car, light stretching can relieve minor aches and pains.

Lifting weights

Strength training with weights or resistance bands and with sit-ups, push-ups, and abdominal crunches helps preserve or restore your muscles. The training can build the muscles you need for daily activities and aerobic exercise, stem the weakness that comes with age, boost your metabolic rate (and fat-burning capacity), help prevent bone and muscle loss, and lower the risk of back problems. Do at least two or three 20- to 30-minute sessions a week, focussing on the upper body, legs, and torso.

Recommendations

If you're not happy with your test scores and want to begin or beef up an exercise program, follow these steps:

  • Ask your doctor's advice, particularly if you have chronic illnesses, are over 45, or are at increased cardiovascular risk.
  • Warm up with light exercises, and stretch at the end of your workout.
  • Increase the intensity of your workout by no more than 10 percent a week, and start slowly after any lapse.

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