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What's an Appropriate Exercise Program?

Find tips on warming up, working out, and stretching.

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What's an Appropriate Exercise Program?

An effective exercise program has three main parts: the before, the middle, and the after. The before includes a brief warm-up; the middle, or bulk of the workout, involves aerobic activity plus weight conditioning; and the after consists of a cool-down and stretch. Let's take a closer look at each.

Warming Up

A warm-up literally warms up the body. By increasing your internal temperature and preparing muscles for the activity ahead, a proper warm-up can help prevent injury to muscles, joints, and connective tissue. Further, a quick 5–10 minute warm-up will increase the blood flow to the primary muscle groups so that they are ready to go.

When you think of a warm-up, do you visualize yourself sitting in a straddle position on the floor, moaning loudly while reaching for your left toe (which feels like it's somewhere south of the equator)? You're not alone. But contrary to what most people think, a warm-up doesn't necessarily involve stretching exercises. Actually, 5 to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity is an effective warm-up (such as biking, rowing, walking, or even marching in place). More specifically, warm up with a lighter version of the exercise you will be engaging in.

For instance, runners can start with a 5–10 minute brisk walk, and swimmers can warm up with a couple of easy, slow laps in the pool. Even take a 5–10 minute walk on a treadmill (and include arm circles) before hitting the weight room.

The Cardiovascular Workout: Challenge Your Heart and Lungs


Aerobics, which is also known as cardio, are the exercises in which your muscles require an increased supply of oxygen.

What are aerobics? If you think that aerobics are just jumping around to bad disco music, dust off your sneaks; you're way behind the times. The term aerobic literally means “with air.” Therefore, the exercises in which your muscles require an increased supply of air (more specifically, the oxygen within air) are termed aerobic. Aerobic activity is also known as cardiovascular activity (or cardio) because it most definitely challenges your heart and lungs. Think about this: When you jog, the large muscles of your lower body are continuously working over an extended period of time and therefore require more than their usual supply of oxygen. Because your heart and lungs are the key players in retrieving and circulating oxygen, they go into overdrive to increase oxygen delivery. Therefore, in addition to working out the large exterior muscles, aerobic activity also provides one heck of a workout for your heart and lungs.

Normally, aerobic exercise should last 20 to 60 minutes, depending upon how much time you have and how fit you are. People who are fit can work longer and harder than those who are not, simply because they can handle the increased demand for oxygen. For all you beginners, don't let a few discouraging workouts get you down. Doing aerobics is like playing the piano; the more you practice, the better you get.

Walking briskly, biking, jogging, stair-climbing, cross-country skiing, jumping rope, and, yes, aerobic dance are all examples of aerobic activity. Generally speaking, anything involving weights and machines or a fair amount of standing in place is not considered aerobic activity.

What can aerobics do for you?

  • Burn calories and help with weight management. (Most people are happy to hear that one.)
  • Improve the functioning of your heart and lungs, therefore making you less likely to suffer from serious problems involving these key organs.
  • Improve your circulation.
  • Improve your sleep patterns.
  • Improve your state of mind.
  • Intense aerobic activity can release endorphins, in other words, the “natural” or “runner's” high—legal in all states, with no nasty side effects the day after.

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