Mindful awareness

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Resolve to Improve Wellness

I spent some time looking out at the cardio room in the gym last week. It was more crowded than usual, a reflection of the annual mid-January rush to sign up for gym memberships in support of people’s new year resolutions. I was encouraged to see people I hadn’t seen before, committed to treating their bodies well. Unfortunately, many of them didn’t realize that they were really wasting their time. I wanted them all to better understand how to use exercise to improve their health.

One woman walked on the treadmill for about 12 minutes. Sounds fine, but she was walking at a speed slower than I can imagine her walking in the mall. I watched a gentleman on the stationary bicycle. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t have been able to keep it balanced if he were pedaling that slowly on a real bicycle. I’m concerned that these people will not continue their new exercise programs for long if they don’t see benefit however they define benefit. I also love efficiency and one thing that bugs me is wasting time. So I am an advocate of getting the most out of one’s time in the gym. As long as you are putting in the time on the machines, then I say make it worthwhile!

Aerobic exercise is necessary for good heart health. Aerobic exercise increases heart rate and can be any enjoyable activity that maintains an elevated heart rate, including bicycling, swimming, brisk walking, dancing, jogging, running, and cross-country skiing. Aerobic activity burns calories, conditions the heart and lungs to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, increases good cholesterol, reduces risk for type 2 diabetes, reduces depression, lowers risk of premature death, and helps to tone the body by reducing the fat layer that lies over muscles. To benefit, however, requires at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. The 30 minutes can be distributed in three 10-minute segments over a day, but the activity must be moderately intense. Moderate intensity is usually interpreted to mean that the body is working hard enough that the person can talk but not sing. Or on a scale of 0 (sitting in a chair) to 10 (highest level of effort possible), the person judges her intensity at a 5 or 6.

Any increase in intensity and amount of exercise will enhance the benefits noted from the bare minimum criteria above. Increasing aerobic activity to 5 hours a week also reduces risk of colon and breast cancers and prevents weight gain.

Perhaps I just didn’t see the higher intensity work by the people I watched in the gym last week. Sadly, I am not optimistic that is so. Any enjoyable aerobic activity will be beneficial as long as people exercise long enough and at adequate intensity. Usually committing to exercise with a friend will help sustain the program. For many people activity that requires least equipment and financial investment such as brisk walking or dancing is best. For others, structured time such as basketball games and tennis matches are motivating.  It doesn’t matter what the activity is as long as it is sustained at a moderate intensity level.

I encourage everyone to exercise and as long as they are spending their time doing the activity, may it be most beneficial. The reward will be a longer, healthier life. That is a resolution worth maintaining!

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