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.

Walking Poles

Photo Credit: Anwi CC-BY-2.5-IT

Walking using walking poles, called Nordic walking, is a great way to exercise your arms, shoulders, back and chest muscles during a walk. Nordic walking turns a leisurely walk into a full-body workout. The arm movements when Nordic walking gets your heart pumping for aerobic fat burning. In addition to increasing the intensity of your walk, using walking poles also helps improve your balance and provides points of stability when walking on uneven trails. When you use walking poles, your posture is improved and your back muscles get a good workout while you walk. 
Using walking poles can seem a bit cumbersome at first, but once you get the hang of it, Nordic walking will feel natural. Start out by holding the poles in your hands close to your body with the wrist strap loosely around your wrist. Grip the pole with a relaxed hand so that the poles can swing forward. Allow the poles to swing from your wrist while in your hand. Think about how your arms swing naturally when you walk. When your right foot is forward, your right arm swings toward your back and your left arm swings forward. When your lead foot touches the ground, swing the opposite pole forward and allow it to touch the ground parallel to the heel of your lead foot. As you step forward, push back on the lead pole and simultaneously bring the other pole toward the front in time with your stride. Keep your arms relaxed when walking. The goal is to swing the poles in rhythm with your stride. 

Social Fitness

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Do you exercise alone at home or at the gym? Sometimes belonging to a group of like-minded people can be a great motivator. Friendly competitions or simply sharing time with others can make exercise more enjoyable, strengthen friendships and increase your social circle. How can you engage your current friends and find new friends through exercise? Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Communities across the USA are starting walking groups. Join a local walking group to make new friends. Start your own walking group if you can’t find one in your area. Recruit current friends, family and co-workers. Encourage them to bring someone with them, too. Schedule walks when the most people can join in the fun and exercise. Choose start locations that are convenient to the majority of the group and have fun!
Take a dance class for the aerobic exercise and to make new friends. Dancing, like ballroom dancing or Salsa dancing, is a low-impact form of exercise that is effective and fun! You can probably find a dance class close to your home. You don’t have to have a dance partner to join a class. There are almost always partners ready to dance with you. Line dancing is a popular dance style and doesn’t require a partner. You’re sure to make new friends and get a good workout at a dance class. 
Most gyms offer group exercise opportunities, such as yoga, martial arts, Pilates and dance aerobics classes.  Join an exercise group at your local fitness center or gym to make friends and get fit at the same time. Those who need a more personal touch when it comes to exercise may consider a small-group exercise class offered by certified personal trainers. Personal trainers sometimes offer group training with 10 or fewer participants in the group. 

Are You Ready to Power-Walk?

The benefits of walking cannot be stressed enough. Walking is one of the easiest ways to lose weight, improve your overall level of fitness and it’s fun. You don’t need fancy equipment to exercise by walking. You need only don a good supportive pair of walking shoes, some comfortable clothing and a safe place to walk. In addition to losing weight and burning body fat, walking can help you reduce your bad LDL cholesterol level and increase your good  HDL cholesterol. You may see your blood pressure lowered and by losing body fat you reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Walking is a low-impact exercise that works the whole body with minimal risk of injury. For those who want to take their walking exercise to the next level, power-walking may be the answer. Power-walking is a type of brisk walking with a technique to get the most from each stride. The goal of a power-walking exercise is not speed but power and technique. 

Photo Credit: Escuela Virtual de Deportes CC-BY-SA-2.5-CO 2010
Begin your power-walk by concentrating on pushing off from the back foot as your front foot lands on the ground. Walk heel to toe. The front foot should contact the ground heel first and roll across the ground toward the toe as you push off with your back foot using your toes. Allow your hips to rotate forward and backward and your waist to twist naturally while walking. Avoid the urge to lean forward as you power-walk. Keep your upper body upright and look straight ahead. People naturally swing their arms when casually walking. For the power-walk, bend your elbows and keep your arms close to your body. Allow your elbows to swing back and forth with your gait, but don’t pump your arms. Try to keep your upper body and arms as relaxed as possible while you push off during a power-walk. 
If you’ve been walking at a normal gait for 30 minutes or more without becoming fatigued, introduce power-walking in 5 minute intervals. Interval training can help improve your stamina, cardiovascular and respiratory health. You’ll burn more calories by interval training. Walk at a normal gait for 10 minutes and then power-walk for at least 5 minutes. Cool down by returning to a normal walking pace and repeat 5 minutes of power-walking. Beginners may want to power-walk for 2 to 3 minutes and gradually build up to the full 5 minutes of power-walking. As your stamina increases, increase the amount of time for each interval of power-walking until you can power-walk for 10 minutes followed by 5 minutes of normal walking pace. 

For more information, see:

Walking & Jogging Safety Tips

Photo Credit: Carol Walker CC-BY-SA-2.0 2010
Walking is an excellent way to lose weight, lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Walking and jogging are ideal ways to get a good cardio workout and strengthen your body. If you are walking or jogging outdoors, there are a few things to keep in mind to stay safe. 
Walk or jog with a friend, a group or  in a public place where other people are around. Many public parks provide scenic walking and jogging trails. When the weather is nice, these trails attract the casual walker and serious exerciser alike. There will probably be lots of people around during pleasant weather. Some trails are closed at night and holidays, so be sure to check with city’s park management for walking trail schedules. Avoid walking or jogging in isolated areas alone or in the dark. Don’t walk in unfamiliar areas or unlit streets. If you must walk or jog alone carry personal protection, such as an emergency whistle or personal pepper spray. Contact your local law enforcement agency for training and tips about personal protection devices. Always carry your cell phone with you when walking or jogging alone. Let someone know where you will be at all times and the approximate time you should return home. Write your phone number and the phone number of a friend or relative on a sticker and attach it to your shoe lace or on  a wrist band.
Always wear a medical alert bracelet if you have any medical condition that may require emergency treatment. If you suffer from asthma, diabetes or take any type of prescription medication regularly make sure your medical alert bracelet contains this information. Don’t wear headphones and listen to music when walking or jogging in public areas or near a street or highway. You won’t be able to hear a car or a person coming up behind you. Avoid talking on your cell phone when walking. It is just as distracting to talk and walk as it is to talk and drive.  Remain alert when walking or jogging. 

For more safety tips for walkers, joggers and runners, see:
Mount St. Mary’s University, Walking & Running Safety Tips 

Springfield Missouri Police Department, Safety Tips for Walking at Night

Start Walking and Get Fit

Walking is one of the easiest exercises to help you lose weight, firm and tone your body and get fit. You don’t need expensive exercise equipment or a gym membership to walk your way to weight-loss and fitness. People who walk regularly can experience lower cholesterol, stronger bones, improved circulation and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. You do need a good pair of walking shoes for proper support. See your doctor for a checkup and a podiatrist if you have any problems, such as pain and soreness in your feet, ankles or knees.
Photo Credit: Sarah N CC-BY-2.0 2004
A busy lifestyle or hectic work schedule are not barriers to walking and other exercise. You need about 30 minutes of exercise each day to lose weight, maintain your weight and stay fit. You don’t have to get your 30 minutes of walking exercise in one session. Break up your daily walk into short, 10-minute periods of walking. Walk before work, during your lunch break and after work. Wake an hour earlier each day and walk for 15 minutes. Walk for 10 minutes before lunch or walk a few blocks to your favorite deli for a salad and some fruit for lunch. Walk to work if your job is 30 minutes or less from your home. Vary your route to avoid becoming bored with your daily walk. Walking the dog is a perfect opportunity to get some exercise. Your dog will enjoy the long walk and you can enjoy the benefits of walking. Take part in a walking tour of the historic section of your town or in a nearby city. Pair up with a walking partner or join a walking group to help keep you motivated.

Don’t get discouraged! Set realistic goals when it comes to exercise, fitness and weight-loss. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, you may become exhausted after only 10 minutes of walking, that’s okay! Don’t give up. Walk for 10 minutes each day until you can finish your walk feeling energized. Gradually increase your walking time by 5 or 10 minutes until you can walk for 30 minutes without becoming exhausted. 
When you are walking for 30 minutes without feeling tired pick up the pace. Walk faster to get more from your walk. Try adding some ankle weights to help strengthen your ankles and knees. Use ankle weights with a normal walking gait. Don’t use them for brisk walking or jogging exercise. Carry a 5 pound dumbbell in each hand to help strengthen your arms and increase the cardio benefits of your walk. 

For more information and walking tips, see:

WebMD, Make Your Walk a Workout, by Linda Melone, Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD,2011