A Complete Exercise Program

There is much publicity today about the importance of regular physical activity.  In this article I shall discuss what is necessary for a complete program.   For people who don’t exercise and would like to know why, I refer them to the questionnaire I have posted on my blog.  

The time issue:  One obvious reason that people often give  is that it takes quite a bit of time.  In order to get the complete workout I discuss here–aerobic work, weight training, stretching and balancing work–it takes about 6-8 hours per week.  Plus the time, if one uses a gym, to get to the gym..   I myself don’t see the purpose of living as merely living as long as possible.  One should, in my opinion, live as joyfully and healthily as possible.   I am able to devote myself to the time for my routine because I don’t have a 9-5 job, don’t have little children to take care of, and don’t have other responsibilities that many other people have..  I can’t say I actually enjoy my  workouts; I just know that I am as healthy as I am at my age mainly because I devote the time to exercise.  And I am able to enjoy my life much more than I would if I were unhealthy, tired, and experiencing chronic aches and pains.

Where to exercise?  One question that one must answer is:  where to do it?   I myself prefer going to a gym.  One reason is that I find some of what  I do, particularly the aerobic work, boring.  Talking to other people at the gym, including the trainers, makes the workout more bearable!   And I can read or watch TV while doing the aerobic work on a machine.  But there are many devices one can buy for working out at home that I discuss below.  My gym, which is run by Providence Hospital, is more expensive than the chains such as 24-Hour Fitness,  but all the trainers are very knowledgeable,  having at least bachelor’s degrees; the machines are fairly new and kept in good working order; it is not usually crowded and there is no pressure to sign a long-turn contract.  They also have a large number of fitness classes.

The ability issue:  If a person is disabled, that certainly makes it more difficult to do the kind of exercise program I describe here.  But there are increasing possibilities for people with all kinds of physical problems.  For example, at the gym I go to there are classes for those with Parkinson’s disease.  And, as I discuss below, there is a machine there that provides an aerobic workout where one is only  using his or her arms.  There are websites that describe and sell aerobic equipment for those who are confined to a wheelchair or have other kinds of disabilities.

There are four different general types of physical actives that are necessary for complete physical health.

1.  Aerobic exercise: This is probably the most important type for general health and longevity.  It requires 3 or 4 weekly stints of vigorous movement of at least 40 minutes a session.   It requires getting one’s heart rate up to a specific level, depending on one’s age and level of conditioning.  Charts can be found at the American Heart Association website, Target Heart Rates – American Heart Association  But note that, if you are just starting to exercise, you must do for a short period of time, and gradually increase the time and effort of your aerobic exercise until you get up to the 40-50 minutes target.  In the beginning, the aerobic work might mean just 5 minutes.   Here are some activities that may or may not be sufficient:

          a.  Walking:    Sauntering  won’t get a person up to the necessary heart rate.  Walking fast, however, particularly  uphill, is a good exercise.  Whether or not you’re doing the right amount can be determined by checking your heart rate.  You can do that  by feeling your pulse at your wrist or your throat and looking at the second hand of your watch.  If you live in an area with hills, that can be an excellent way of getting in your aerobic work.

          b.  Running:  This is practically always an adequate exercise, assuming you have the correct running shoes and stretch before and after running.  Again, you should get up to running for at least  40 minutes.  In the beginning you may only be able to do it for a few minutes, then walk until you regain your wind, then run again.

          c.  Sports:    Many sports are not good enough to get your heart rate up to the required level and to stay there.  I have been an avid (but not very good) tennis player for many years.  When I lived in Topanga Canyon, a town in the Santa Monica mountains between Santa Monica and Malibu, I played doubles twice and singles once a week in a town in the San Fernando Valley, Calabasas.  I  thought when I moved in Oregon that I was in pretty good shape.  But when I joined a gym, and had an evaluation of my fitness level, I found I was out of shape,.  It made sense to me because tennis, even singles, involves short bursts of vigorous activity, but, between points, one just is standing still.

          Many people think that golf is a good sport for getting aerobic exercise since one is walking pretty long distances, particularly if the course is 18 holes long.  But again, unless you’re walking quite fast between holes, it’s not adequate as an aerobic exercise,  Football and baseball are also not particularly good exercises, again for the reason that the activity is not sustained.  Basketball and soccer can, however,  be good sources of aerobics because one is almost constantly in motion.

          d. Cycling:  An excellent source of aerobic exercise, particularly if you’re putting out a reasonable amount of energy and/or going up hills.  Many people I know in the Portland, Oregon area, cycle to work.

          e.  Swimming:   This is an excellent aerobic  exercise because it involves the whole body and contributes to flexibility.  But as with other aerobic activities, one would need to get his or her heart rate up to the optimal level and swim for 40-50 minutes.

          f.  Aerobic machines:  Stationary bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines, cross-country machines (e.g., Nordic Track), climbers and rowing machines are all good for getting aerobic exercise.  There’s even a machine at my gym that just involves the arms, good for people who, because of disability, can’t use their legs for exercise.  Consumer Reports periodically tests and rates these machines; I recommend checking them out if you are thinking about buying a machine to use at home.   But don’t scrimp; a cheap machine might not last very long and can even be dangerous if it’s unstable.

          g.  Exercise classes:  Most gyms today have aerobic type classes  that are good for getting the duration and effort of activity that are aerobically sufficient.  Unlike the machines, they can also include other important aspects of physical activity such as balance, flexibility  and focusing.

2.  Weight training:  I wasn’t aware in the past  just how important weight training is for getting good exercise, thinking  that people only did it for developing big, bulging muscles.    But I found out that it’s important for other reasons:  developing strong bones (particularly important for women because it can reduce the risk of osteoporosis), controlling weight, building stamina and sharpening one’s attentional focus; one has to focus in order to use the machines and/or dumb bells properly.

          For attaining a complete weight training routine,  hooking up with a trainer at a good gym is essential to avoid injury if the exercises are not done properly.  I belong to an excellent gym and combine the use of dumb bells and machines for my weight training workout.  I use 7 different apparatuses per workout and have two sets so that I can alternate programs from one workout day to the next.  One excellent device I use for a rowing-type exercise is called TRX.  It’s something that can involve a pretty complete workout that one can do at home.  It’s a very simple, inexpensive device, but one needs good instruction from a trainer for learning how to use it for other exercises like squats, bicep curls, rowietc.     

3.  Stretching and flexibility work:    This is very important, particularly as one gets older.  I always finish my workout by doing a number of stretching routines.  I have to do these at the gym and an abbreviated set at home because I have low back problems.  The stretching doesn’t cure my back but makes me flexible enough to do pretty much anything I want to do physically.    I gradually obtained my stretching routine through the years from two excellent physical therapists. a chiropractor and a massage therapist.

4.  Balancing work:  One of the most common injuries people experience, particularly when they get older, is due to  poor balance.  Broken hips, knee injuries,  other types of injuries and even deaths are frequent and can be avoided if one has good balance.  Some of the weight training I do is combined with balancing on inflatable plastic   disks and something call ed a Bosu balancing ball.  Thai Chi and yoga are excellent forums for improving one’s balance.  There are also websites that give instruction for balancing work:  A  good fitness trainer can also be a good source of information about exercises that improve one’s balance.

As always, I would appreciate any comments anyone is inspired to make concerning this article.