I’ve been a fitness enthusiast for several decades. But my ideas about exercise and health have changed with the times, as new medical data have emerged.
For the average American, it is clear that moderate exercise is best. Moderate exercise minimizes the risk of musculoskeletal injury, it’s a realistic level of exercise for most people, it’s easy and it doesn’t take a lot of time.
At the Cooper Aerobics Center, we have shown that moderate activity reduces deaths from heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer by 55% and increases longevity significantly.
The best exercises to perform to obtain health and longevity benefits, in no particular order, are cross-country skiing, swimming, cycling, running and walking.
You can perform indoor or outdoor versions of these activities and mix and match among them to keep up your interest.
A weekly workout plan
Before you start an exercise program, consult a physician for a checkup and an exercise stress test if you’re a healthy male over age 40 or a healthy female over age 50.
Here’s a great moderate-level weekly workout plan almost anyone can do…
Aerobic exercise: Perform an aerobic activity at least three times a week. Make sure each session includes…
• A three- to four-minute stretching session
Stretch your legs, hamstrings, quadriceps and Achilles tendons and your back before and after exercising. Also stretch out your shoulders if you’re preparing to do an activity with intensive arm movements, such as swimming or cross-country skiing.
Stretches should be gentle and continuous, not pulsing. Breathe evenly while stretching and stretch to the point of resistance, not to the point of pain.
• A five- to 10-minute warm-up
Do your chosen exercise at a slower pace to ready your musculoskeletal system for more intense activity.
Example: Walk at 75% of your usual speed until you break out in a light sweat.
• A 20-minute aerobic segment performed at a sustained low speed.
After six to 10 weeks, gradually increase your speed and distance, and add arm movements to intensify the workout. To become aerobically fit, walk up to 45 minutes, five times a week or 60 minutes, two to three times a week.
• Five-minute cool-down
Exercise slowly again to bring your heart rate back down to normal.
• Integrate muscle-toning exercises into your regimen
Use weight machines or handheld weights, or perform push-ups or stomach crunches at least twice a week for 20 minutes.
Reason: Toning exercises keep your muscles in shape including your heart improve strength, stamina and flexibility, and reduce the potential for injury. You can perform muscle-toning exercises on the same days you perform aerobic activities or on alternate days
Keep in mind
• Aging increases the risk of injury
Therefore, the intensity of exercise becomes less important than the duration of exercise. You get as much cardiovascular aerobic benefit from walking a 12-minute mile as you do from running a nine-minute mile.
Important: Shoot for a 12- to 15-minuteper-mile pace when walking.
• Stretching becomes more important
It can reduce stiffness and risk of injury and improve athletic performance. Important: If you feel pain, immediately stop what you’re doing. If pain persists, have it evaluated by a physician.
• You may gain some weight as you age
You may gain some weight as you age but that’s not unhealthy if you continue to exercise. Don’t worry about extra pounds if you’re within 20% of your ideal weight.