As we enter the long dark days of winter, it is important to maintain a regular exercise routine. In addition to weight reduction, regular exercise can improve sleep, reduce stress and even improve symptoms of depression. Regular aerobic activity can also help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Exercise makes your heart stronger and increases your healthy, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), while lowering the bad, low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Exercise can also help prevent osteoporosis and reduce your risk of diabetes and even certain types of cancers.
Aerobic activity is any sustained physical activity that uses large muscle groups and causes the body to use more oxygen than it would while resting. Brisk walking, jogging, snowshoeing and cross country skiing are all good ways to strengthen the heart and help maintain a healthy weight.
If you wonder whether or not you’re working hard enough to strengthen your heart, use the talk test. If you can talk easily, you’re not working hard enough. If you can’t talk at all, you are probably working too hard. If you talk in fragments, and catch a breath in-between, you’re probably exercising at the right level to get a good workout.
Whether the activity involves jogging, cross country skiing or using equipment at the gym, the greatest benefit comes when you are in your target heart rate zone. Each individual’s personal zone depends on their age and fitness level. For most people, their target heart rate zone is 60 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate. For otherwise healthy people with no known health issues, a maximum heart rate is usually defined as 220 minus their age, and the target heart rate zone will be 60 to 85 percent of that number.
The key to a successful exercise routine is to take it slow and steadily build up your endurance. If you’ve been inactive for a while, start with 10 minute sessions and build up to 30 to 45 minutes of activity 3-5 days a week. If you are just starting to get active, keep to the lower end of your personal target heart rate zone. You can increase the intensity as your level of fitness increases. The most important thing to remember is to pick an activity or two that you really enjoy so you are more likely to stick with it.
Sara Krebs is the Program Coordinator of MidMichigan Health’s Medical Weight Management Program. She is part of a multi-disciplinary team that consists of exercise physiologists, registered dietitians and a behavioral specialist. Together these weight management specialists work to address all aspects of weight management to help individuals effectively meet their healthy lifestyle goals. Sara received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Exercise and Health Science with a minor in Public Health at Alma College.