How Intensely Should You Work Out?

Photo credit: Michael L. Baird CC-BY-2.0

You probably know that you need to exercise on a regular basis, but maybe you aren’t really sure how hard you need to push yourself to achieve optimal results. Your workout intensity mainly depends on your current fitness level; what’s good for one person may be too difficult for someone else. You need to monitor your heart and your body to decide which level works best for you.

Exercise intensity is different for each person, so what seems like a really hard exercise routine to one person may feel fairly easy to someone in better physical condition. It’s important to pay close attention to how you feel while working out to determine the most appropriate intensity level. When you exercise at a moderate intensity, it should quicken your breathing but not leave you gasping for air. Even at a moderately intense level, you should still be able to carry on a conversation. If you can sing, you are not working hard enough. You should also expect a light sweat after exercising for about 10 to 15 minutes. Exercising at a vigorous intensity, however, should produce sweat within 5 minutes and expect your breathing to feel deep and rapid. You won’t be able to say more than a few words at a time at this level.

To get the best health benefits from exercise, it is generally recommended that adults engage in moderately intense exercise for roughly 150 minutes per week or a minimum of 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. You may want to break up your exercise routine into 30 minute sessions, 5 days a week to make it easier to stick with your routine, especially if you’re short on time. Alternating between hard-easy workout days is also a good idea to allow your muscles to recover and rebuild. You may increase the amount of exercise when you feel ready to do so. The suggestions above signify the least amount of exercise needed to experience positive health benefits.

Next, you need to figure out your target heart rate to more accurately measure your exercise intensity. Start by subtracting your current age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. This number basically tells you what your heart can safely handle during exercise. Your target heart rate should stay between about 50 to 70 percent of your heart’s maximum rate for moderately- intense exercise. For more vigorous activity, however, you should aim for a heart rate of 70 to 85 percent of the maximum. Once you have determined your target heart rate, you should measure your pulse during your workout to keep track of your heart rate.

If you’re just starting an exercise routine, remember to begin slowly and gradually work your way up to more intense exercise as your fitness level improves. You can start with swimming or brisk walking, then slowly build up to more vigorous exercise routines, such as aerobics or running. Also, don’t go beyond what your body can handle by pushing yourself too hard, too soon, which can lead to injury, burnout and other health issues. Listen to your body and stop exercising immediately if you’re in pain.

Fun Runs for Fitness

Public Domain

Theme races have exploded onto the fitness scene, and people of all ages have gravitated and embraced this craze. In previous years, the most popular fun run has most likely been the annual Thanksgiving 5k Turkey Trot in your neighborhood. While Turkey Trots everywhere will no doubt remain an integral part of Thanksgiving Day for fitness inspired families, here are some races that will not only keep you active, but also allow you to have a blast doing it!

Color Run

Also known as the Happiest 5k on the planet, the color run is an untimed race where participants are covered with different colored cornstarch-based and toxic-free powder at each kilometer. A rainbow of colors then explodes onto everyone in celebration of the finish line. This race is extremely family- friendly in that it is walk and stroller friendly, but can easily accommodate any running enthusiast.

Electric Run

The electric run boasts a similar foundation of color and enthusiasm as the Color Run, but with an added nighttime twist. Contestants walk, run and even dance through various light displays that are coordinated with music along the course. Colorful and eccentric costumes are highly encouraged, and due to time-of-day, this race caters to spunky adults.

Warrior Dash

This is a traditional mud-run where participants race through mud pits, tunnels, slippery hills, cargo climbs and more! The obstacles provide for an added challenge that appeals to runners, fitness enthusiasts and 5k novices alike. While there is certainly a competitive edge to the nature of this race, the ability to modify and adjust to each obstacle is there for those who desire the adventure with slightly less intensity.  Participants must be at least 14 years old to compete due to the slightly chaotic nature of the course and obstacles.

Run for your Lives

This run puts an eccentric twist on your traditional mud run! Here, the motivation behind your run is that you are literally “running for your life”, and this is fueled by the extremely popular Zombie trend. Zombies are chasing you as you are running through mud and working around various obstacles. Flag-football comes into play as participants have 3 flags around their waists, throughout the race. The object is to make it through the race without the zombies getting all 3 flags.

5k Foam Fest

Think mud run meets car wash, and add various costumes and limbs to the mix for an extremely fun finish line. Obstacles on this course are a mix of traditional mud pits, climbing walls, tunnels and rope courses that are followed by inflatable bouncy slides and contraptions covered in fluffy white, soapy foam. This race focuses more on the silliness of the obstacles, and running only adds to the mix, so if you’re looking for a more traditional running-oriented 5k, a different race might be worth looking into.

Hot Chocolate 5k and 15k

Geared toward a wide variety of varied-level runners, this race is referred to as America’s Sweetest Race. The actual race itself is a traditional road race, but what lies at the finish line is what creates the stand out—upon completing the race, each participant receives a hot chocolate, chocolate fondue and various dipping treats. Talk about a reward!

5 Best Weight Loss Exercises

Running is one of the best choices for maximum calorie burning and weight loss.  Whether you choose to run on your favorite trails or on a treadmill, you will get a tremendous workout and burn A LOT of calories. You need to burn 3,500 extra calories per week to lose one pound of body fat, so if you run for one hour at 5 mph at least four to five times per week, you could burn between 600 – 800 calories, according to That means you can burn between 2,400 and 4,000 calories per week, which makes running a great way to start slimming down and toning up.  If you have bad knees, then the elliptical machine is the ideal low-impact alternative to running.  What’s most important, however, is choosing a cardiovascular activity that you will really enjoy to keep you enthusiastic and motivated to exercise on a regular basis.  Swimming, step aerobics, cycling, hiking, spinning, power walking and circuit training are all additional ways to help you lose weight and get in the best shape of your life.

Whatever physical activity you choose to do, the key to reaching your weight loss goals is to never allow your body to adapt to your fitness routine. Once your body adapts to your routine, you will plateau and stop seeing results. That is why it’s important to vary your routine roughly every three to four weeks. You can change the intensity or duration of your workout. Try exercising at a different time of day or change the location of your workouts, and don’t be afraid to try a new activity. Cross-training helps prevent injury and boredom, as well as keeps your body from adapting to your routine. Throw in an aerobics class or a swim class to shake things up a bit. Just remember to keep it fun, interesting and challenging. Keep pushing yourself to move to the next level and improve your fitness.

Here’s a list of some of the best weight loss exercises. You can calculate how many calories you will burn based on exercise duration and body weight using an exercise calculator, which you can find on many fitness websites, such as or
1.       Running
Running outdoors or on a treadmill is one of the best weight loss exercises you can do.  You can burn approximately 100 calories for every mile you run. You can do this activity virtually anywhere, and all you need is a good pair of running shoes. If you stay consistent and focused on your weight loss goals, you will see positive results.
2.       Elliptical Machine
If the high-impact nature of running is too much for you, then the elliptical machine will be the next best alternative. Training on the elliptical machine is easy on the joints and simulates the cardio of running with added resistance. You can also burn up to 500 calories in one hour, almost equivalent to running.
3.       Step Aerobics
You will get an intense cardio and strength workout when you do step aerobics. You will work your glutes, hips, legs and upper body. Alter step height and speed to burn more calories in less time.
4.       Swimming
Swimming works practically every muscle in your body. You will also develop endurance, strength and cardiovascular fitness. Add swimming as a cross-training option to your regular exercise routine for more variety, and to prevent injury and lessen the impact on your joints. Water therapy is also ideal for those with injuries.
5.       Bicycling
Cycling improves strength, muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness. You can ride a bike almost anywhere, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Or, you can work out on a stationary bicycle at home, at work or at a gym. If you cycle on a regular basis, you will tone and strengthen your leg muscles and improve the mobility of your knee and hip joints. Continually challenge yourself and burn more calories by changing the speed and/or resistance.

"Barefoot" Running Shoes?

Photo Credit: Aleser PD

One of the fastest growing trends in running shoes is the minimalist or “barefoot” shoe. These shoes have been flying off the shelves of exercise and fitness stores across the United States. The shoes are designed with a minimum of amount of material between the runner’s foot and the ground in order to mimic running in bare feet. The risk of injury is high for barefoot runners due to scrapes, cuts and bruises from the high-impact on runners’ feet. Minimalist running shoes provide little support, but can protect the feet from injury.  Do these shoes actually help you get more from exercise value from your run? 
Manufacturers of these shoes claim that barefoot runners tend to land each step near the balls of their feet near the big toe instead of on the heel as runners wearing regular shoes. Landing each step on the ball of the foot reduces the impact on the feet and legs. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) exercise physiologist Pete McCall recommends minimalist running shoes that mimic barefoot running because the foot has better contact with the ground. According to McCall, regular running shoes have an elevated heel that can interfere with balance. Wearing minimalist running shoes during your walk or run may also increase the dexterity of your feet and toes. ACE sought the assistance of a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to conduct a study of the effectiveness of the barefoot shoes. A group of casual joggers were given a pair of barefoot shoes which they used for 20 minutes three times each week for 2 weeks. At the end of the trial period, about 1/2 of the subjects had changed from the common heel-strike style of running to landing on or near the balls of their feet. 
The bottom line on bare-foot style running shoes is that they provide no cushioning for heel-strike runners  who should either not wear the shoes or change their running style to a toe-strike gait. Heel-strike runners risk injury to the feet and legs if they run or jog in minimalist style shoes. Be prepared to change the way you run if you want to try a pair of these shoes.

Prevention and Treatment of Shin Splints

Photo Credit: Andrey CC-BY-2.0
Runners. joggers, athletes and others who engage in high-impact aerobic exercise or sports can suffer from shin splints. Shin splints is a painful condition of the tibia and lower leg. The tibia is the large bone in the front of the lower leg, often called the shin bone. Force exerted on the shin can injure the tendons and connective tissues that attach the muscles to the tibia resulting in pain, swelling and sometimes redness. Shin splints can be very painful and may last for a few days to a week. See a doctor if swelling or redness persists and pain does not begin to subside within a few days. You can treat shin splints with ice to reduce the swelling and an over-the-counter pain reliever with an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen. 
You can prevent shin splints by taking  a few simple precautions. Wear a shoe designed for the type of activity you want to engage in. Runners and joggers should wear a shoe with a good arch support and enough padding to cushion the impact of the foot hitting the ground. Replace your shoes when they begin to show wear, usually after about 350 miles of wear. If you still experience shin pain, even with a good shoe, consider adding arch supports. A podiatrist can help you select an appropriate size arch support to relieve the stress on  your shin and support your feet comfortably. 
You can reduce the chance of suffering shin splints by cross-training and running on alternate days. Try swimming one day and running the next followed by bicycling before running again. You will help protect your shins from injury. Cross-training is also an excellent way to keep your whole body in shape. Strength train your leg muscles to strengthen the muscle and tendons attached to the shin. Lift weights with your legs and perform crunches and other exercises that will strengthen all the muscles of your legs. 

For more information about shin splints, see:
Mayo Clinic, Shin Splints

Why Run?

Photo Credit: Joe Mabel CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

Running is a high-impact exercise that can be exhausting and can cause injury. So why do people who want to get into shape run? People who run to stay in shape do so for a number of reasons, mostly because the health benefits outweigh the risk of injury. People who like to run to stay in shape burn more calories and work their heart and respiratory system harder than people who walk and jog. A runner can burn about 100 calories for every mile he or she runs. Walking, jogging and biking the same distance burns far fewer calories than running. Running 5 miles per day burns about 500 calories. Running does not require anything more than a safe place to run, comfortable clothes and a good pair of running shoes. 
If you decided to take up running to get into shape and lose weight, keep in mind that the important factor in burning calories and fat is not how fast you run, but how long your exercise. Running for 5 miles at a slower pace has a better overall health benefit in terms of weight loss, muscle strength and increased endurance than trying to set a personal record for the fastest time you can run one mile. Running exercises not only the muscles in your body, but your heart and lungs as well. Running can help lower your blood pressure, improve respiration and increase the flexibility of all of your major muscles. 
Runners often experience what is called “runner’s high” or a sense of euphoria associated with the brain’s release of endorphins when a person engages in intense exercise. The brain releases a chemical called betaendorphin in response to physical exertion. This chemical can cause the runner to experience a feeling similar to happiness and excitement. Balance your daily run with proper nutrition, strength increasing exercises and a balanced social life. 
After an invigorating run, you may not feel like eating. The chemicals released by your muscles and your brain may actually serve to suppress your appetite. It is important to balance exercise, rest and nutrition. Consume a high carbohydrate meal prior to running. Whole grain pasta or whole grain breads can help fulfill your body’s need for energy. Drink a glass of water and eat some fresh fruit and vegetables or drink a natural fruit/vegetable smoothie or juice following exercise. You need to replenish your body with nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, following an  intense workout. 

Outdoor Exercise and Cold Weather

Runners and joggers should take a few extra safety precautions when exercising outdoors during cold weather. Snow, ice and sleet increase the likelihood of a fall and injury. Running outdoors in cold temperatures can result in breathing difficulties. Runners and joggers are in danger of frostbite on the face, fingers and toes when the temperature drops below freezing. You can safely exercise outdoors if you take a few precautions. 
Photo Credit: Sebastian Ballard CC-BY-SA-2.0
Wear several layers of clothing instead of one bulky layer. The air between layers of clothing serve to insulate your body against heat loss. Remove a layer of clothing if you begin to overheat and put it back on if you start to get cold. Protect your hands and feet from cold or injury from frostbite in extremely cold weather by layering socks and gloves. Put on a pair of gloves and then a pair of mittens over the gloves to protect your fingers. If your hands begin to sweat, you can remove the mittens. Wear two pairs of socks to protect your feet and toes. You may need to wear running shoes a half size larger to accommodate bulky socks. Always wear a warm hat when outside during cold weather. A lot of body heat is lost through the head. Wear ear muffs or a thermal headband to protect your ears from the cold. 
When the temperature is below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or if there is a very cold wind chill factor, consider indoor exercise. If you choose to exercise outdoors during extremely cold weather, take extra precautions to protect your body from heat loss and frostbite. Wear a ski mask to protect your face from the cold and wind burn. Wear thermal undergarments when the weather is extremely cold (below 0 degrees Fahrenheit) and the wind is blowing.

Drink plenty of water during cold weather exercise. You may not notice that your body is becoming dehydrated when the air is cold. Run a little slower than you would in warm weather to help avoid sweating which can lead to chills. Running or jogging at a slower pace is also important to help avoid falls due to slick ice covered paths and sidewalks. Avoid exercising outside during rain and sleet because wet clothing can cause your body to lose heat. 

For more information and safety tips, see: