America is completely obsessed with weight loss. Though this country is also struggling with an obesity epidemic, there is no denying that Americans will spend good money on popular diets, gym memberships, workout DVDs, and even go so far as to use surgical means to reduce their body weight.It doesn’t matter what alternative you choose, the most effective way to lose weight in a healthy and long-term manner is through proper exercise.

Just hearing the word exercise alone is enough to make a room full of people sigh in exhaustion. Exercise seems to be one of those things in life that are difficult to form into a healthy habit for many of us. When you are finished working a long day, one of the last things you want to do is burn the last of your remaining energy doing something strenuous that will show limited immediate benefit. This psychological dilemma turns exercise into a form of self-punishment instead of an enjoyable activity that adds value to your life and general well being.

The reason why people think it is so difficult to exercise is because the way people have been programmed to view and understand exercise is fundamentally wrong. In order to be able to incorporate exercise into your lives, it is critical to understand what the body needs. The fact that the body needs exercise to be healthy may seem like the most obvious statement ever uttered, but let’s for a moment dig a little deeper. If the body needs exercise, how much exercise does it need? How hard should the exercise be performed? What kinds of exercise? These are important questions, and truthfully there are very few universal answers when it comes to the needs of people’s bodies, but exercise has some general principles that apply to almost everyone.

If you were to create an ultra-simplistic definition of age as it refers to humans, you could consider it to be the gradual loss of function. Losing the ability to think, see, touch, balance, and move. Eventually when too much functionality is lost, the body becomes deceased. Maintaining body function is the secret to staying young. So in order to maintain function and fitness into old age, we must exercise. In fact, exercise not only helps maintain physical function, but mental function as well. There have been numerous studies on different activities that help maintain cognitive functions like playing Sudoku and playing computer games, but the most effective activity of all is proper exercise.

According to information from the Art Kramer University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign “a year of exercise can give a 70-year-old the connectivity of a 30-year-old, improving memory, planning, dealing with ambiguity, and multitasking.” These cognitive benefits are not only for the elderly, but even children can receive major cognitive rewards from sufficient exercise. There is a school in Illinois, just west of Chicago called Naperville Central High School that has become famous for its revolutionary physical education program. The reason why it is so revolutionary was that just by altering the nature of their physical education program, they improved their academic performance rates substantially. Their method is to introduce cardiovascular exercise, as in jogging, stationary cycles, and other non-competitive sports to stimulate heightened cognitive capacity in the subsequent hours when they then study academics. This method has directly translated into improved test scores and academic performance. One can safely say that exercise is the most cost effective activity that anyone can do to increase their quality of live, besides continuing to breathe.

So what are the rules and principles that we must follow in order to gain the best results from exercise? Should we all go buy some extreme exercise DVDs where we do 4000 pushups and try to look like 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger in 3 months? Thankfully, that amount of exercise is, from a health and longevity standpoint, unnecessary. You don’t need to go through a military style boot camp to get all of the benefits of exercise, but there is a minimum amount of exercise that needs to be performed and it needs to be done consistently over the course of a lifetime. For most people under the age of 50, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour per day of aerobic exercise is sufficient to maintain a high quality of physical fitness and the cognitive benefits.

Obviously, ‘aerobic’ is a term often thrown around the exercise community and many people don’t actually know what it really means. Aerobic means ‘involving oxygen’. When we say, ‘aerobic exercise’ we mean exercise that improves the body’s ability to transport, absorb, and utilize oxygen. Determining whether exercise is aerobic or not is determined by our heart rate during exercise. Too low of a heart rate, and there are no rewards or improvements gained from the activity, you might as well just keep sitting on the sofa eating chips and beer cause the exercise isn’t helping. Too high of a heart rate, and the body is going to quickly become starved for oxygen because it can’t absorb and use it as fast as it needs to at that heart rate. So how do we figure out what the appropriate heart rate is? Well, aerobic exercise occurs in the band between 50- 80% of maximum heart rate.

In order to determine your aerobic window, you need to know your maximum heart rate. There are a number of formulas for this, but the one we like to use is called the 220 formula. You take the number 220 and subtract your age. Example: if you are 45, you would take 220 – 45 = 175. That is your maximum heart rate. So the band in which you should perform your workouts is between 88 and 140 beats per minute. Most people can reach their aerobic heart rate by walking briskly, or up a flight of stairs. Just about any physical activity that gets your heart rate up to this rate, and is maintained for 30 minutes to an hour is perfect. It’s really all you need to keep your body in good physical condition.

At 50 and older, the body begins to deteriorate at a faster pace, and so more exercise is necessary to maintain the ability to move. What often happens at this age and older is that because people tend to have less energy, they are less likely to exercise and deteriorate and lose muscle mass much faster. How many people over the age of 65 do you know that can sprint? Do pushups? Climb a tree? Chances are that it’s not very many. And those who can are the ones who have maintained their physical abilities through exercise and adequate nutrition. This means that at 50, the amount of exercise needs to be done for at least an hour every day. 60 and above need two hours. While it may sound like the type of exercise is irrelevant, and for in terms of cardiovascular and cognitive health it is, but if one wants to keep their full range of functionality as in running, jumping, lifting, balance and dexterity, certain forms of exercise become necessary.

One of the best ways to exercise there skills is through Pilates. Pilates is designed to strengthen the core muscles, from which all the other muscle groups derive their strength. It is also designed to stretch and improve the flexibility of the tendons and muscles so that there is no restriction of movement, which is a very common problem in older individuals. You may often hear people make jokes about how old people pull muscles doing simple tasks like taking off their shoes or getting out of the car. It’s funny, right up until it’s you who is suffering. One of the other advantages and benefits of Pilates over other forms of exercise is that it does not involve impact exercises like most sports and weightlifting do. Impact exercises can put too much stress on the joints and actually cause damage. While a certain amount of stress is necessary to maintain joint health, many types of high-impact exercise can over do it and cause joint difficulty in older individuals who many not have the joint strength to endure it.

Regardless of what your age or current fitness level is, there is always a way to exercise. Some people feel like they have gone past a point of no return and now think that it is impossible for them to exercise. This is simply not true. Even if you are very much over weight, or if you have skeletal problems, there are always exercises that you can do to increase your heart rate. The Internet is an incredible resource for discovering simple exercises that will take you into the aerobic exercise band and help tremendously in the weight loss process. Even if it is just walking up and down stairs for 30 minutes, or even 10 minutes, 5, it doesn’t matter. Start with whatever you can and work your way up. Very little exercise is still better than no exercise at all, and we all have to start somewhere. Don’t be discouraged in your thinking that just because your not playing sports or running like an Olympian that your exercise is not benefiting you, because it is… even more than you may realize.

Even though it is important that everyone gets proper exercise, there are a small number of individuals who may have unique medical issues that could prevent them from doing certain types of exercise, heart disorders, joint deformities, etc. Before beginning a committed exercise program, it is always a good idea to play it safe and consult a qualified medical professional to make sure that the type of exercise you intend to do is safe and effective. It is also quite likely that even if you are someone with a restrictive condition, exercise may also improve or benefit that condition! You just have to make sure you are doing safe and correct exercises that don’t exacerbate that condition.

Though it should go without saying, proper nutrition and adequate hydration are critical to any form of exercise and it is also a very good idea to consult a qualified medical professional who can advise you on the best diet and supplementation program to compliment your exercise routine.

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