Getting in condition means improving your whole body fitness. Some exercises strengthen your muscles (e.g., weight lifting, horseback riding) while others improve your flexibility (e.g., yoga). "Aerobic" exercise improves your body's endurance by helping your heart, blood vessels and lungs work more effectively. Exercises that are aerobic are those in which your muscles use oxygen to function - these exercises are also the ones that make you breathe faster, sweat, and feel your heart pound. Knowing what you want out of exercise may get you motivated to begin. Some benefits of exercising include:

  • More energy
  • Improved self-image
  • Weight control without dieting
  • Control over appetite
  • Higher endurance or stamina - not being winded easily
  • Better conditioned heart and lungs
  • Less tension
  • Greater management of stress
  • Better ability to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Less chance of injury
  • Toned muscles
  • Healthier cholesterol level
  • Quicker healing

How much should I work out?

If you begin an exercise regime that is too advanced, you increase your change for injury. Build your routine gradually to help prevent sore muscles, injury or burnout. You won't see conditioning results after one weekend of working out; usually your fitness level will start to improve after 2 to 3 weeks, with measurable improvement after 4 to 6 weeks of regular exercise. Most people, however, find the feel better mentally after only doing a little exercise.

Before starting, figure out how intense your workout needs to be in order to improve your cardiovascular system. Find your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart can beat) and your target heart rate by using the formula below:

  • 220 - your age = Maximum Heart Rate
  • (.60) x your Maximum Heart Rate = Lower target heart rate
  • (.85) x your Maximal Heart Rate = Upper target heart rate
Calculate the last two numbers to identify your target heart range for exercising. Try to keep your heart beating at a rate between these numbers for at least 20 minutes to improve your cardiovascular system.
  • Remember, an exercise program doesn't have to take hours you don't have.
  • As little as 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week can start to improve your physical fitness.

Exercising at more than you target hear rate will do little to condition you heart and lungs and may cause harm. On the other hand, exercising below 60% of your maximal heart rate doesn't work your cardiovascular system hard enough to produce conditioning benefits.

Many new exercisers make the mistake of working out too hard. When you begin your exercise program, try to keep your heart rate at 60% of your maximum; as you get into better condition, gradually increase the intensity of the workout. If you are exercising within your target heart rate, you should be able to carry on a conversation while your heart is beating fast, and you should be sweating. If you can't talk easily, you are pushing your body too much and need to slow down. Take your pulse for ten seconds and multiply that number by 6 to find your hear beat per minute. Do this three times during your workout to see if you are working hard enough or if you are overworking your body.

Do I need special clothes?

Wear anything that is comfortable and allows movement without binding. Make sure your clothes are cool enough for when your body heats up - whether outdoors or indoors. Wear layers of clothing for exercising outside in the cold. Try wearing one layer less than you would wear if you were not exercising outside, then, if this is still too hot, you can remove another layer. It is better to have too many clothes than too few (and risk of hypothermia).

When you exercise outdoors - particularly at night, wear light-colored clothes or reflecting bands so motorists can see you. Remember other safely equipment, such as goggles for racquetball, a helmet for biking, etc.

Proper footwear for your workout should provide adequate arch support and sole protection, and above all should be comfortable. Check with an athletic shoe store to find the best shoe for your needs.

SoHow do I get started?

The activities you choose depend upon you. Do you want to work out alone or with others, and if so, with how many? Do you want a workout at home, in a gym or outside? How much money can you afford to put into a program? What's your schedule?

An exercise partner can help you stay motivated to exercise. Ask a friend to play racquetball with you, or join a jogging club. If you really want to be alone, a crowded aerobics class at the gym may not work for you; renting or buying an aerobics tape for you VCR at home, or running by yourself after class may be more realistic. There are plenty of free programs, facilities and classes on campus in which you can get involved. Try them out and decide what suits your style.

Is it possible to over-do it?

The benefits to exercising are great, but exercising to an extreme is hazardous. A nutritious diet is especially important for exercisers in order to provide adequate energy and prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Over-conditioning can cause muscle and joint injuries and can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to "whatever is going around." Women who over-exercise may have menstrual cycle irregularities. People with diabetes or cardiovascular problems, or over age 35 should check with their health care provider before starting a conditioning program

REMEMBER - an exercise program can be a fun addition to your week that doesn't have to cramp you schedule. Do a variety of exercises, set realistic goals for your routine and your fitness level, and enjoy yourself

The saying goes that once you exercise regularly, you'll miss not exercising