As our bodies age, we can lose aerobic capacity, flexibility, and strength. Studies have shown that calcium and vitamin D are necessary for healthy bone growth, but must be combined with exercise to be fully used by the skeletal system. There are appropriate goals for your exercise program that need to be reached through properly selected and executed activities; otherwise your exercise program may not serve your body well and may even be injurious.
Exercise should be incorporated into your lifestyle on a regular basis and should be structured to accomplish these five specific goals.
1. To increase your heart and lung efficiency
2. To increase your muscle strength
3. To increase your muscle tone
4. To increase your muscle endurance
5. To increase your flexibility
Meeting These Exercise Goals
Two kinds of exercise are necessary in order to meet your goals: aerobic exercise and weight-bearing exercise. Aerobic exercise increases your oxygen capacity, because it is a way of exercising that demands extra oxygen. It stimulates beneficial changes in the respiratory and circulatory systems of your body, ultimately making your lungs and your heart work more efficiently, and it is equally important in maintaining your cholesterol and blood lipids at normal levels. Exercise will elevate the HDL cholesterol—the good cholesterol—for most women, and lower the triglycerides. It should also lower the LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels. These changes help cleanse the blood of fats that can block arteries and put you at risk for heart disease.
Aerobic exercise also burns more calories and helps you to reduce body weight and fat. Aerobic exercises include walking, running, jogging, cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, and dance programs that are designed to use oxygen. The treadmill, the stationary bicycle, the cross-country ski machine, and the stair machine are all capable of helping you get a good aerobic workout when you use them properly, working at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least twenty minutes, three times a week.
Weight-bearing exercises, those loosely defined as activities that work against gravity, are vital to bone health. Women turn to walking, cycling, golfing, playing tennis, and dancing, to name a few activities that make them lift, push, pull, bend, and stretch. Weight lifting, weight training, and body building also help to save, build, and even rebuild bone. Some studies show that weight-bearing exercises and muscle contractions generate stress on the bone that is necessary to prevent bone loss. Other studies have shown that the decrease in bone density in older women may be halted, or even reversed, when women exercise regularly. Today, women are “pumping iron” as never before, using free weights, barbells, and weight disks, or using weight machines such as Nautilus or Universal at health clubs. (It is important that well-trained instructors teach you how to use the equipment.)
Choosing Your Exercise Plan
If you are ready to make a lifelong commitment to exercise, begin by choosing aerobic activities that are fun for you and combining them with weight-bearing activities that interest you. Try various activities to see which ones get you moving both physically and psychologically. Then, combine various activities and, to keep your level of interest high, vary the combinations.
For example, you may work out a warm-up, aerobic dance routine, and cool-down exercise program that you do three days a week and alternate it with a weight-lifting routine on the intervening days. Or you may walk vigorously three days a week and cycle two days. However you set up your exercise program, vary it when the least bit of boredom creeps in and try new activities or group activities to stimulate your interest.
How Much Should You Exercise?
It depends on whether you have been exercising regularly or are about to begin. Your level of fitness right now and your medical evaluation determine where you begin. When you begin to exercise, or when you begin a new activity, it is important that you start at a low level of participation and build up very slowly. Soreness or injury that sets you back days, weeks, or months is a greater deterrent to achieving fitness than taking it slowly and steadily, gradually increasing the time and the intensity to get to a point of physical fitness sooner. Remember the parable of the tortoise and the hare? Here, too, it is the persevering tortoise that wins.
How Often Should You Exercise?
Plan to exercise four times a week from twenty to forty minutes per session, and try not to slip below three times a week. Remember, you have made a commitment to your own good health and there just has to be time for it. If need be, write your exercise period into your datebook just as you would any other important appointment, and keep it!