Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolution

Was your New Year’s Resolution to get back into shape? Good for you! If you are hoping to get your body back into shape, there are a number of easy, “baby step,” ways to go about doing it.

You don’t need to go into one of those crazy P90X or CrossFit classes. Take things at your own pace and build up your stamina and energy level. What’s more, you don’t want to put excess pressure on your heart if you are overweight. Take things one step at a time and you will reach your fitness goal.

One important aspect to attaining success in whatever your fitness goal is, is to make sure you are wearing the right type of equipment. You want to be sure that you wear excellent quality shoes, loose fitting clothing, and proper support if you plan to do any lifting.

Another important key to success is a proper diet. Be sure you are eating well. If you plan to exercise, your body will need calories. Many people make the mistake of limiting their food intake- this is not going to serve you well in the long run. Your body needs food for energy. How are you supposed to go running for miles when your body has no calories to fuel itself? That is like going for a long road trip without putting gas in your car.

Lastly, get some support around you. It’s true that you don’t need to be in a crazy fitness class to succeed, but it can be extremely helpful to have some social support around your fitness goals. Find a workout buddy, or at least someone who’s interested in talking fitness and will be happy to hear about your latest achievements and challenges. When you work with other people you can help support each other, either simply with emotional support or concrete advice.

You can absolutely achieve your fitness goals. It is up to you to follow through with your resolution!

How to Start a Fitness Plan Over 40

Physical fitness in middle age can be a powerful protector against frailty, heart conditions, and more. In fact, regular midlife exercise might be the most powerful way to prevent chronic illness, a new study done at UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute shows. Researchers examined more than 18,000 participants with an average age of 49 and found that the more fit men and women were, the lower their chances of developing serious health conditions during 26 years of follow-up. Need more reasons to get moving? Fitness can help stop osteoporosis, another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found because pre-menopausal women who worked out for as little as two hours a week maintained healthier bones than those who do not exercise. Research in the Journal of Neuroepidemiology found that regular exercise can help stave off dementia, too.

If you’re worried that you’re too late to the party to make a difference, you’ll need to come up with a better excuse for not breaking a sweat. You can make gains in your strength and cardiovascular health even when you’re in your sixties, seventies, and eighties, says Joseph Ciccone, DPT, CSCS, associate director of Columbia Orthopaedics Sports Therapy in New York.

40One reason exercise is so good for overall health is that it can put the brakes on the gradual loss of muscle mass that starts once you hit age 40, explains Sheldon Zinberg, MD, founder of the senior fitness chain Nifty After Fifty, based in Garden Grove, Calif. “Starting at the age of 40, we lose between 0.8 and 1 percent of our muscle strength each year,” Zinberg says. “At age 60, it can accelerate to 1.5 percent a year, and by age 70, unchecked, it can increase to 3 percent a year.” Loss of muscle can lead to balance problems and, in turn, increase the chances of falling, he explains. Falls can result in moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures, and increase the risk for early death, a fact reflected in the cartoon Zinberg keeps in his office: It shows a doctor talking to a patient and asking, “What fits your busy schedule better? Exercising 30 minutes a day or being dead 24 hours a day?”

First Steps to Middle-Age Fitness

If you’ve never exercised, starting can feel overwhelming. The first step is to set a goal, Ciccone says. Determine why you want to start a fitness routine — to lose weight, get stronger, or improve your overall health. Once you have a goal, you have something to work toward, he suggests.

Next, check in with your doctor. “The older you are, the greater your risk for medical conditions,” Ciccone warns. “It’s smart to have a checkup first and to talk to your doctor about any pre-existing conditions that may determine what exercises are safe for you.”

To get the most from your middle-age fitness routine, Zinberg says, you need a plan customized for you. Consider hiring a personal trainer who can develop a regimen that meets your unique goals.

Another key is to start slowly and then build slowly. “The key is gradual progression,” says Ciccone. Don’t be surprised if, after your first workout — even a brisk walk — you’re sore. Some soreness is to be expected, he says. But if you’re so sore that you can’t move, you may have overdone it and should take it a little slower.

If you can’t do 30 minutes at a time, break your workout into 10-minute intervals. Any exercise counts as long as it’s sustained for at least 10 minutes at a time and is of moderate to vigorous intensity.

To build over time, slowly replace physical activities that take moderate effort, such as brisk walking, with those that require more vigorous expenditures of energy, like jogging.

As you progress, keep challenging yourself. One technique is called interval training — adding intense spurts at regular intervals during the workout. If you’re walking, increase your speed until you reach the next street sign, for example, and then drop back to your usual brisk pace until you reach the next sign; repeat the pattern for the length of the walk. If you’re biking, add some steeper hills to your path to raise your heart rate.

Getting Specific: Exercises for Your Health

A well-rounded fitness plan includes three types of activity: cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise that targets your heart, strength training that targets muscles and prevents the muscle loss that comes with advancing age, and flexibility training to keep you limber and preserve balance.

Options for cardiovascular activities include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Playing doubles tennis

For strength training, Ciccone recommends working out every other day (or every third day, when starting) — never on consecutive days. “It’s the rest, not the working out, that makes you stronger,” he says. “Working out breaks down muscles and the rest builds them back up.” Begin with whole-body exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, or squats. Then you can home in on specific muscles and add exercises such as bicep curls and triceps extensions. Three sets of 10 repetitions is a good starting point, he adds. Although free weights and weight machines are effective, consider using resistance bands, which are lengths of stretchy material that work muscles without your having to lift actual weights.

Exercise choices that focus on flexibility include tai chi and yoga, but your trainer should be able to give you simple exercises and stretches to do.

Sample Middle-Age Fitness Plans

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer many suggestions for creating a weekly workout schedule. Here are just two options:

Option 1:
Sunday: 30-minute brisk walk
Monday: 30-minute brisk walk
Tuesday: 30-minute brisk walk
Wednesday: Strength training
Thursday: 30-minute brisk walk
Friday: 30-minute brisk walk
Saturday: Strength training

Option 2:
Sunday: Rest
Monday: Jog for 25 minutes
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Jog for 25 minutes and then do strength training
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Strength training
Saturday: Jog for 25 minutes

Making Middle-Age Fitness Fun

Above all, make exercise for health enjoyable. If you pick an activity you like, you’re more likely to stick with it. If you find a partner to exercise with, you’re also more likely to continue your routine. Know that activities like gardening (when you’re digging and shoveling) count. Some exercise disciplines are motivational and do double duty — yoga increases flexibility and develops your muscles, as well as relaxes you and relieves stress. Pilates strengthens muscles and works on flexibility and balance, too. Best of all, when you choose workouts you like, the energy and sense of accomplishment you’ll get will serve as motivation to continue.

Get Fit Without Going to the Gym

lowIf a gym membership is not in your budget and a personal trainer is too pricey, you can still get fit and lose weight — for free. Wherever you exercise, whether at the gym, outdoors, or at home, it doesn’t really matter, says Mickey Harpaz, PhD, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist and author of Menopause Reset!. What does matter is that you exercise regularly. “The trick is consistency over a long period,” he says.

When planning your fitness routine, remember that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, through activities such as brisk walking, biking, jogging, and swimming, and two to three strength-training sessions per week. To be safe, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program — especially if you have a health condition. Once you get the go-ahead to work out, try these budget-friendly options.

Park far away. It’s tempting to park as close as you can to the entrance of your destination. Instead, you can squeeze some exercise into your day just by parking at the end of every lot and walking the rest of the way, whether you’re going to work, shopping at the mall, or seeing your doctor.

Get off the bus early. This is another way to encourage working out — by walking to your destination. Walking is one of the best exercises you can do, says Bob Sallis, MD, a family physician and sports medicine expert for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. “It requires no special equipment other than a pair of comfortable sneakers, and it can be done anywhere,” he adds.

Choose the stairs. Whenever you have the option of taking the stairs instead of an elevator, go for it. Climbing a few flights of stairs several times a day is a great way of working out for free. If you run up the stairs or take them two at a time, you can give your glutes and thigh muscles a toning boost.

Volunteer. Devote time to organizations such as Achilles International, which supports athletes with disabilities through free walking and running work outs alongside able-bodied volunteers. Lend your legs to the organization or another like it a few times a week to improve your physical and emotional health.

Turn on the TV. If you have a TV, you can work out from your living room. Most cable packages come with free exercise programs either at set times or on-demand, and you also can find free work outs on YouTube and other Internet sites.

Work out online. If you’re not sure where to start without a personal trainer to guide you, check out the American Council on Exercise’s free fitness library. The step-by-step instructions for exercises for every body part — abs, hips, shoulders, arms, and more — will having you toning at home in no time. Many ACE exercises don’t require equipment; for the ones that do, consider investing in a pair of free weights, or improvise by holding canned foods or gallons of water in each hand.

Exercise in the park. Walk, jog, or bike through your neighborhood park, and up your calorie burn through body-weight exercises, such as walking lunges and tricep dips. Check with your city to find out if the public parks in your area ever offer free fitness class: From coast to coast, yoga, aerobics, Pilates, and Zumba classes are now available for free in outdoor spaces. You can also check social networking sites such as MeetUp.com to see if there are any local free-to-join exercise groups.

Go dancing. Dancing is great exercise, whether you’re grooving around your living room or out at a club with friends. Depending on your weight and how strenuous the moves are, you can burn from 60 to 140 calories in just 15 minutes. If you are out on the town, remember to skip calorie-laden cocktails to avoid spoiling your weight-loss efforts.

Do chores around the house. Scrub the floors. Rake leaves. Garden. Clean out the attic and the garage. Mow the lawn. Wash the windows. All these chores make great calorie-burning work outs. As an added benefit, your house will look “toned,” too.

Visit your library. Many libraries have exercise videos or DVDs and books that you can borrow and use to work out on your own. Of course, you’ll find an even better selection at your local fitness store — and even if you buy a few, they still will add up to less than a gym membership.

Surf More to Improve Your Fitness

Is your Pinterest filled with images of your fitness role models? Your inbox jammed with healthy living email newsletters? Your web browser’s bookmark bar flagged with your favorite fitness blogs? (Or is that just us?)

Good. Keep it up. All that surfing can pay off healthwise.

If you’re an online fitness fanatic who loves looking at new workouts, catching up with fitness and weight loss blogs, or drooling over healthy recipes like we do, it could help. Even if you don’t always read those bookmarked links and rarely do the workouts you peruse online, this Internet habit can inspire physical fitness in the real world, a new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found.

Online fitness information has a positive if small effect on physical activity and fitness, researchers concluded after an analysis of 34 previous studies, particularly for short-term behavior changes. Different types of online intervention — whether it was an email newsletter, an online weight-loss community, an informational web page, or a combination of the three — all increased physical activity in participants. Sedentary or insufficiently active study volunteers became proportionally more active after receiving online fitness information than already active participants.

Here are more keys to transforming from an online fitness junkie to a real-life gym rat, based on the study:

  • Log in more than three times per week. The average participant in the studies analyzed accessed their online fitness intervention of choice at least three times each week. It seems that the more time you spend learning about fitness, the more likely you are to try out a few new moves.
  • Keep it up for 12 weeks. Unfortunately, one week of chatting with your new online diet buddies won’t be enough to produce measurable results. Stick with your program for at least 12 weeks to see a natural change in your behavior, researchers say.
  • Find content you love. If your Google Reader is always overflowing, get fitness information delivered in your inbox instead. That way, you will be more likely to regularly engage with the fitness content. Another key? Discovering websites and communities you love to visit.
  • Stay engaged. You will be more likely to take action if the online fitness content you’re exposed to fits your needs and lifestyle. Are you a new mom who wants to lose baby weight? A middle-aged mom trying to work off some belly fat? Seek out a similar online community to help you start — and stick with — a fitness routine, or find another outlet that keeps you interested and coming back for more. The more engaged volunteers were with the content, the more active they eventually became, researchers found.

(Full disclosure: Everyday Health has active online weight-loss communities, email newsletters, and robust social-media sites that are meant to educate and inspire people who want to develop healthy habits. We did not participate in the study in any way.)

The Secret to Stronger Muscles

secret-to-stronger-muscles-articleOne look at Olympic weight-lifters shows that the heavier the weights, the stronger the weight lift, right? Although there’s definitely some truth to this conventional workout wisdom, a new position paper published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism argues that there’s more to the story.

Weight training with less weight but more repetition may be as effective for building muscle as lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions, said researchers at McMaster University in Ontario. The key to muscle gain, researchers say, is working the muscles to the point of fatigue, no matter the weight size. They want you to feel the burn.

The authors of the paper conducted a series of experiments to measure how muscles react to different forms of training. They found, not surprisingly, that high-intensity muscle contractions from lifting heavy weights produced muscle development. But when volunteers performed resistance training with smaller weights until they reached muscle fatigue, identical muscle development was formed. The higher repetitions also helped sustain the muscle-building response in the days following the workout.

This means you can continue using 3-pound hand weights for bicep curls if you want. But if you want to see a bigger, stronger bicep, you must keep up the curls until you have to fight to pull up the weight each time. (For a woman who works out regularly, this could means scores of repetitions.)

No matter how you chose to get there, the key to seeing a real benefit from strength training is using enough weight to challenge yourself, and repeating the exercises enough times that your muscles reach fatigue. As you get stronger, remember to switch to progressively heavier weights to keep on feeling the burn.

Why Strength Training is Essential

Now that you know how to strength train to build muscle mass, here’s why strength training should be a regular part of your fitness routine.

  • Increasing muscle mass is the only way to boost metabolism. Fad diets claim they can increase your metabolism, but the only real way to make it happen permanently is to increase your muscle mass. This is because muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest.
  • Regular weight training can help protect your brain. As you age, strength training can help keep you sharp. One recent study found that women who started strength training at the first signs of memory decline might ward off full-blown dementia by routinely lifting weights.
  • Muscle mass manages blood sugar levels. Because your muscles store glucose, researchers believe that muscle mass can help your body keep blood sugar in check and ward off type 2 diabetes.
  • Strength training plays a role in bone and joint help. One of the best ways to prevent or even reverse bone density loss is through strength training. If you have arthritis, studies have shown that regular resistance training can help ease joint pain.
  • Lean muscle looks good. Last but certainly not least, weight training is a surefire way to build those long, lean muscles so many women want. If you’re worried that weight training will make you look bulky, know that women do not have the testosterone levels required to get bigger from weight lifting. Instead, you’ll look lean and toned.

How Fit Are You? A Fitness Test for Adults

You owe it to yourself to make fitness a priority. Physical fitness can help prevent more than 40 chronic diseases including potential killers such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and even cancer.

But how do you know whether you’re fit? Your overall fitness is a measure of four physical abilities — endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility — and body composition or body mass index (BMI). BMI tracks height and weight only while a body composition test, which calculates your fat and lean muscle mass, is an excellent indicator of overall fitness. For a more hands-on approach, try these personal trainer-approved fitness tests to see how you stack up.

Endurance and Cardiovascular Fitness Tests

Your endurance level reflects the health of your cardiovascular system — your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.

The VO2 Max Test: When you exercise intensely, you’ll eventually reach a point when your body cannot breathe any harder to keep up. That’s your VO2 max — the milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). The more oxygen that circulates throughout your body when you exercise, the fitter you are. This is a test endurance exercisers might want to determine how much oxygen they use during intense workouts, says Mario Serban, co-founder of the LA Training Room in Los Angeles and trainer of Dancing With the Stars contestants. Because the VO2 max test requires a special face mask and other equipment, it has to be administered by a professional, usually an exercise scientist or physiologist. Talk to your doctor about your heart health before pursuing a test.

The Step Test: A simpler way to test your cardiovascular strength is the step test, says Mark Reifkind, owner of Girya Russian Kettlebells in Palo Alto, Calif. To perform the test, you need a 12-inch-high step and someone to time you. Step on the block with your right foot and then with your left so that you’re standing on the step, facing forward. Reverse, going down with your right foot and then your left. Repeat this process at a consistent pace for three minutes. Rest in a chair for one minute. Then, take your pulse for six seconds and multiply that number by 10 to determine your heart rate for one minute.

The results will vary depending on your age and gender. For men ages 18 to 25, a 60-second pulse rate between 85 and 100 is average to above average; 84 or less is good to excellent, while 101 or higher is fair to poor. For men ages 46 to 55, a pulse rate of 93 or lower is good to excellent, while 113 or higher is fair to poor.

For women ages 18 to 25, a 60-second pulse rate of between 94 and 110 is average to above average; 93 or lower is good to excellent, while 111 or higher is fair to poor. For women ages 46 to 55, a pulse rate of 101 or less is good to excellent, while 125 or higher is fair to poor.

How to improve endurance: Get regular aerobic exercise. Try brisk walking, swimming, jogging, biking, climbing stairs or hills, or playing an active team sport, such as tennis or basketball.

Balance Test

Balance is a key ability for overall health as you age, and this simple test will help you determine where you stand.

The One-Legged Balance Test: Take off your shoes and socks and stand on a hard surface. Ask someone to time you. Close your eyes and lift one foot about six inches from the floor. Bend your knee and place your foot against the leg you’re standing on (if you’re right-handed, lift your left foot; if you’re left-handed, lift your right foot). See how long you can hold this position.

Do the test three times and average your times. You should be able to hold your balance for 30 seconds or more if you’re 30 or younger. As you get older, it’s normal for your time to go down. “If you’re over 65, I’d be happy with your being able to hold it for five seconds,” Serban says.

How to improve balance: Practice standing on one foot or walking heel-to-toe. Yoga and tai chi also improve balance.

Flexibility Test

This simple test measures your flexibility.

The Sit-and-Reach Test: Start by stretching your legs: Lie on your back and lift your right leg toward your chest and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. You can grab your thigh to get your leg closer to your chest. Repeat with your other leg. Then stretch your trunk: Sit up and stretch your legs out in front of you; bend your left leg at the knee so that your foot touches your right thigh, and then run your hands down your outstretched leg. Repeat on the other side. After a couple of stretches, take a brisk walk for one to three minutes.

Place a yardstick on the floor. With a piece of masking tape, mark the 15-inch spot. Sit on the floor with the yardstick between your legs. Your legs should extend straight with your toes pointing toward the ceiling and your heels at the 14-inch line mark, with your feet about a foot apart. Reach forward with both hands along the stick and see how far along it your fingertips reach. Repeat three times with five seconds of rest between each stretch. Write down the longest measurement. (The goal is to reach your heels.)

How to improve flexibility: Begin a regular program of stretching exercises that involves most of your joints. Include shoulder and upper arm stretches and calf stretches. Yoga and tai chi are also good for improving flexibility.

Strength Test

Muscular strength is key to being able to stay active.

The Sit-Up Test: Lie down on the floor and have someone time you. Count how many sit-ups you can do in 60 seconds. This drill will give you an idea of your core strength — the strength of your abdominal and hip flexor muscles.

Results will vary depending on your age and gender. The younger you are, the more you should be able to do.

For men ages 18 to 25, any number over 49 is excellent; 35 to 38 is average. For men over 65, any number over 28 is excellent; 15 to 18 is average.

For women ages 18 to 25, any number over 43 is excellent; 29 to 32 is average. For women over 65, 23 is excellent, and 11 to 13 is average.

How to improve strength: Start a weight-training program with free weights or weight machines. Target the major muscle groups, and challenge yourself by adding weight as you progress. An excellent discipline that focuses on developing core muscles is Pilates.

Moving Fitness to the Next Level

You can calculate your overall fitness score using the federal government’s President’s Challenge Adult Fitness Test. However, keep in mind that finding out your results the first time you do these tests isn’t as important as using them as a baseline and working to improve them with strength training and conditioning routines, Reifkind says. Repeat these fitness tests after a few months of conditioning to see how you’ve progressed.

“Think of improving your fitness level as a marathon — a long-term building process,” Serban says. “If you stick with it, you will see results.”