Most of us could benefit from getting more exercise, and, with the warmer spring weather, this is a perfect time to get started. Current recommendations call for all adults to get 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week in order to improve health and fitness. A 30-minute brisk walk five days per week is one way to meet this recommendation.
You can get even greater fitness benefits by exercising for longer or by doing more vigorous activity, like running. In fact, you can get the same fitness and health benefits from doing vigorous exercise for 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) per week. A good goal is to be active every day for at least 30 minutes and include longer exercise sessions or more vigorous exercise when possible.
Many people are motivated by having a goal to start or add to an exercise program. You may find that training for an event is more rewarding than exercising for the sake of being active.
An excellent goal is to prepare to walk or run in a race. Don't let the word “race” scare you. Most people who enter these events have the goal of reaching the finish line, not winning. That should be your goal, too.
If you are starting to walk for exercise, completing a 5K (5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) walk is a good goal. If you don't currently exercise, start with a target of 20 minutes of walking per day. You can split this up into 10-minute segments, if necessary. After you are comfortable walking 20 minutes at a time, increase to 30 minutes per day.
Continue increasing your walking time until you are up to 45 to 60 minutes per day – about how long it takes most people to walk three miles. If you already do some walking, gradually build up to this goal.
Maybe you already walk and are interested in trying running. Preparing for a 5K run is great motivation. Start by adding some jogging into your walking routine. Try alternating 5 minutes of jogging with 10 minutes of walking. This is called interval training, and the walking gives you a chance to recover from the more intense running.
Once you are comfortable with that, try 5 minutes of jogging for every 5 minutes of walking. Increase the duration of the running intervals over time, until you can run for 30 to 40 minutes consecutively. If running 3 miles is too much, you can always complete a 5K by alternating walking and running.
To reduce the risk of injury you should progress slowly, whether you are walking or running. The popular Couch to 5K program (http://www.c25k.com/) takes you from no exercise to running a 5K in nine weeks, but you may want to progress more slowly depending on how you are feeling. There are also smartphone apps that will guide you toward achieve the same goal.
Exercise should be something you enjoy doing, not something you suffer through. And while you may experience some muscle soreness, especially at first, you shouldn't be in pain during or after exercise. To be safe, you should see your physician before you begin an exercise program.
If you are looking for a chance to participate in a walking or running event, there are plenty of opportunities in our area throughout the spring and summer. Many of these events also benefit local nonprofit organizations, so your participation helps others.
Even if you don't plan to participate in one of these events, the opportunity to get outdoors for a walk or run on a nice day is reason enough to be active. Exercising outdoors has benefits beyond the improvements in fitness or weight loss you would expect. Walking or running in a natural environment can give you a better workout and make you feel healthier and more energized.
Use this as an opportunity to get your family moving with you. Kids can ride their bike while you walk or run or you can push younger children in a stroller. In fact, older children may want to walk or run with you. And don't forget to bring your dog!
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.
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