Getting started with a fitness program

You read the newspaper and you’re on top of current affairs. Accordingly, you’re only too aware that exercise is good for your health, both inside and out. You know that working out benefits your muscles, your bones, your heart and your mood. And on a much broader scale, you get that keeping yourself in good nick is good for your family, your community and even the planet.

Still, when it comes to the crunch, it can be difficult for even the most conscientious of us to, first, find a fitness program we like and, second, to stick with it. That’s where we come in. We’ve devised a well-rounded health and fitness program that will get you in great shape in no time at all. Better still, you (and the world around you) are going to love it.


Part 1 — a holistic approach

One of the commonest mistakes health and fitness enthusiasts make is to focus on one specific area of exercise to the exclusion of all others. Of course, moving your body in any way is beneficial, but it’s even more effective in terms of health and fitness to focus on a mixed program that covers all your bases.

That means your exercise program should include moves that work the heart and lungs, exercise that strengthens the muscles and bones, plus a routine that increases flexibility and range of movement.

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry. We’ve done the hard work for you. All you need to do is pick and choose the workouts you fancy. Don’t forget to choose at least one from each of the following categories and, if possible, mix it up as often as possible. Regularly sampling new workouts will keep your body challenged and your mind fresh.


Get fit — cardiovascular exercise

Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise. This is the kind that strengthens your heart and lungs and burns lots of kilojoules. You’ve probably heard this type of exercise referred to as something of a wonder cure — and that description would be entirely accurate.

According to the Cancer Council Australia (not to mention countless other health bodies), cardio exercise has the capacity to decrease your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and even several types of cancer. Decades worth of research confirms it also boosts mood and eases depression. It even helps you to sleep better. Clearly, this is an activity you want to include in your life.

How much do you need to do to gain all these benefits? Exercise scientists say you can lower your risk of heart disease by just including 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise such as power walking on most days. If, however, you’d like to lose weight, you’ll need to push a little harder. In fact, for weight loss you’ll be looking at five or six workouts of at least 45 minutes. The good news is you needn’t do all that sweating at once.

“Studies show that doing 10-minute bouts of aerobic exercise has nearly the same benefits as doing one half-hour session,” says Suzanne Schlosberg, co-author of Fitness For Dummies (IDG Books, $39.95). Great cardio options include walking, jogging, cycling and swimming.


Tone up — strength moves

It might be that you’ve never considered yourself the weight-lifting type, but if that’s the case it’s time you had an attitude adjustment. Strength, or resistance training as it is also known, is an incredibly important part of any health and fitness regime. For starters, lifting weights will make you feel more powerful, youthful and energetic, but it does much more than that.

“Weight training, even once or twice a week, can help you regain strength, boost your energy levels and swap fat for muscle,” says Sophie Scott, author of Live A Longer Life — The Scientific Secrets of Health and Wellbeing At Any Age (ABC Books, $32.95). “It can also help you to lose centimetres from your waist, hips and thighs.”

But perhaps more importantly, strength training can help you to stay strong for everyday life. You see, those who don’t exercise can lose 30 to 40 per cent of their strength by the age of 65 thanks to natural muscle deterioration. But resistance or strength training can help put back what’s been lost. It can also halt bone density loss, prevent injuries, improve posture and make you look better.

“With strong abdominal and lower back muscles, you stand up straighter and look more svelte, even if you haven’t lost a gram,” says Liz Neporent, co-author of Fitness for Dummies (IDG Books, $39.95).

Great strength training options include working out at the gym, working with a personal trainer or following a resistance move DVD at home.


Stay supple — flexibility techniques

Here’s the undeniable truth: flexibility exercises are crucial to maintaining a healthy, supple body as we age. Stretching is the key to flexibility — in other words, how far and how easily you can move your joints. This is because, as we age, our tendons (the tissues that connect muscle to bone) begin to shorten and tighten, restricting our flexibility. The result: movement becomes slower and less fluid.

“You don’t stand up as straight,” says Suzanne Schlosberg. “You walk more stiffly and with a shorter stride. You find it more difficult to step up or down a gutter or bend down to pick up the garbage.”

Worried? Don’t be. Simply stretching your quadriceps (the front of the thighs), your hamstrings (the rear of your thighs), your hip and your calf muscles can make a big difference.

Regular flexibility work (and by that we mean daily or at the very least several days a week) can also improve posture, ease pain and even correct muscle imbalances. It may help prevent injury and, as any yoga practitioner will tell you, it promotes feelings of wellbeing.

Great flexibility options include yoga, Pilates and the ancient Chinese martial art, tai chi.


Part 2 — doing it right

Of course, there’s no point knowing how to put together the perfect, well-rounded fitness regime if you can’t bring yourself to do it. If that’s you, don’t worry — we have the perfect solution. First of all, if you are struggling to find the time or commitment to work out, give yourself a break. You’re not the only one facing this particular dilemma. In fact, you’re among plenty of friends.

“Even the most dedicated exercisers can lose the will to keep going, as well as those of us who find it hard to get started in the first place,” says Sophie Scott. On that note, let’s look at some of the commonest stumbling blocks and how to overcome them.


Be realistic

Most of us have good intentions. We genuinely want to do our best and that attitude includes our thoughts and feelings towards our health and fitness. Unfortunately, however, life frequently gets in the way. To ensure that this time round that doesn’t happen to you, take a realistic look at your life circumstances before you kick off the fitness regime of your dreams. Questions to ask yourself include: How much free time do I have for exercise? What stage am I at right now?

If you’re already fit, you can get stuck in straight away, but if you’ve not worked out for some time, it’s best to check in with your doctor or health practitioner first. No matter where you’re at, don’t expect too much too soon. In all likelihood, it took you some time to get to where you are today — accordingly, it will take you some time to achieve your health and fitness goals.


Set good goals

There’s no doubt that setting goals works, as any Olympic athlete or serious yogi can attest. But (and this is a big but) goals are only effective if you choose the right ones. To do that, you need to clarify why it is you want to get fit in the first place.

Do you perhaps want to be healthier and fitter in order to become more committed to your yoga practice? Is it that you wish to spend more time playing with your loved ones? Are you struggling to sit in a relaxed meditation pose and would therefore like to strengthen your core and increase flexibility in your joints?

It doesn’t matter what you desire, what counts is that you name and own it. This will help you to remain motivated and also dictate what type of exercise you need to focus on most. Plus, if you want your goals to be effective, make them specific. You’re much more likely to meet a goal that way. For example, your goal should not be simply to “do more yoga” but to hit the yoga mat for 45 minutes three days a week.


Celebrate progress

When you meet a small goal, treat yourself nicely. “You congratulate your friends when they get a promotion,” says Suzanne Neporent. “You buy your mum a bunch of flowers when she wins the bridge tournament. Be nice to yourself, too.”

The simplest way to do this is by attaching an appropriate reward to each of your goals. For example, if you are working towards losing 6kg and hit the halfway mark, it’s time to celebrate. Spend some time with a loved one you rarely see, buy some beautiful, fresh flowers and place them somewhere you’ll see them daily, or allow yourself a guilt-free afternoon in the garden, enjoying the fresh breeze and sunlight. Take the time to tell yourself that you’re working hard and you’re doing well.


Stick with it

There will be times when your life gets in the way of your health and fitness dreams. Unfortunately, that’s just how it is. That said, you’re more likely to handle any setbacks better if you come up with a back-up plan now instead of when the inevitable crisis strikes. That way, you won’t feel like a failure if for some reason your long-term goal doesn’t come to fruition.

Of course, if you do happen to fall off the wagon, be gentle and not too hard on yourself. If you find that tricky, consider what you might say to a friend in the same position. Something like “Don’t worry. It’s only a setback. Just pick yourself and keep on going” ought do the trick.

Finally, forgive yourself, just as you would forgive anyone else. “To forgive really is divine,” says Madisyn Taylor, author of Daily Om — Inspirational Thoughts For A Happy, Healthy and Fulfilling Day (Hay House, $24.95).


Part 3 — fitness for the soul

Exercise is everything. But we’re not just talking about our physical selves here. Moving our bodies eases and excites our spirit. Yes, on a practical level, movement increases endorphins, the feel-good hormones, but it goes much deeper than that. Moving in our bodies helps us to connect to our inner selves and, in doing so, to the world around us.

Movement taps into something ancient in us, which allows us to feel whole. Gary Kraftsow, yoga authority and author of Yoga For Transformation (Penguin/Compass, $35), says our tendency today is to think of physical fitness and health in terms of measurements and standards of performance.

The ancients, however, based their concept of physical fitness and health on an entirely different set of criteria: a feeling of lightness in the body; an ability to withstand change; and a stable body and focused mind, explains Kraftsow. “They recognised that, from the moment of conception, all aspects of the physical body must be nourished,” he adds.

Given that, it’s important to include some exercise for the soul in your program. Yoga is a wonderful choice, particularly yoga that focuses on pranayama (the breath) as well as asana (the postures). But soul-boosting workouts needn’t be formal. You can always try gardening, dancing, skipping or chasing your children around the park. If it makes your heart feel light and your spirit free, then it’s of enormous value and, as such, should be a vital part of your health and fitness program.


The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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