Answers to 10 of your biggest exercise questions
AN APPLE A DAY - Tyrone M. Reyes M.D. (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2015 - 12:00am

Exercise offers a multitude of rewards. Done properly and regularly, it can lower your blood pressure, improve blood cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  It helps prevent and treat diabetes, enhances the immune system, improves sleep, and may even reduce the risk of some cancers.

Staying physically active is vital for maintaining strong muscles, healthy bones, and limber joints, enabling us to carry out our daily tasks with vigor. It reduces falls among older people and can help relieve arthritis pain.  And it’s as important for your brain as for the rest of your body.  If that weren’t enough, it can help control weight — which is important as obesity itself raises the risk of many chronic diseases.

Starting to exercise can be a marker for a “turning-over-a-new-leaf” mentality — the desire to take better care of yourself.  Even if exercise is already an essential part of your life, I hope you learn a thing or two from today’s article, which can improve your workouts.

Here are 10 of the most common questions asked about exercise.

1. Q. How can I tell if I’m working out intensely enough — or too intensely?

A. There are several ways. For one, you can measure your heart rate.  Start by getting a rough estimate of your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.  If you’ve been mostly sedentary, aim for a target heart rate of 50 to 60 percent of the result. If you’re fairly well-trained, you can aim as high as 90 percent for an intense workout.

Once you learn how it feels to work out at your target heart rate, you should be able to estimate your heart rate just by focusing on how you feel — for instance, by noticing how hard you are breathing and how much you are sweating. This is called the “rate of perceived exertion.”  Studies have shown that this is pretty accurate.

Then there’s the simple “talk test,” which can also be fairly accurate in gauging exercise intensity.  If you can just engage in conversation, the intensity is moderate.  If you have trouble speaking, you’re exercising very strenuously and may be exceeding your safety zone.  If you can sing a song, your workout is too easy!

2. Q. Can fitness cancel out the health risks of being overweight? In other words, is it better to be fat but fit than thin and unfit?

A. Yes, some research suggests so, at least for men.  For instance, a study in Circulation in 2011 found that in terms of life expectancy, overweight or obese men who became fitter fared well or better than the lean men who became less fit.  Some previous studies found this is less true for women, however, and it may not apply to very obese people.

Still, this is good news for overweight people who are unable to lose weight or keep it off.  If they exercise and stay fit or become fitter, they’re likely to benefit even if they don’t lose weight.  “The long-term effect of exercise in increasing physical activity is likely to be at least as important as weight loss for reducing premature mortality,” the researchers concluded.  The health risks of being overweight may be lessened or even eliminated if you exercise and stay fit.

3. Q. What’s more important for weight loss — exercise or calorie restriction?

A. Studies comparing the roles of calorie reduction and exercise in weight loss have generally found that the greater benefit comes from dieting. But combining exercise and diet is usually best.  Exercise not only burns calories, it also prevents the loss of muscle mass and the drop in metabolic rate that usually accompanies dieting.  And once you’re at your desired weight, exercise is an excellent way to prevent or minimize future weight gain.

4. Q. Do you burn more calories if you run a kilometer or if you brisk walk it?

A. Many people claim you’d use the same number of calories, but running a kilometer does burn more.  It’s not just that it takes more energy to move your body at higher speed, but running also requires more strenuous arm, leg, and upper-body movements, and it raises your heart rate more, all of which burn extra calories.

And to achieve the longer stride of running, you have to repeatedly lift your body weight off the ground so that both feet are in the air at the same time. When you walk, at least one foot is always on the ground. Race-walking, with its hip-swiveling, arm-pumping motion, also burns more calories per kilometer than regular walking. But brisk walking is still a great way to burn calories, and many people prefer it to running, in part because it is easier on your body.

5. Q. What’s the best thing to eat before a workout, game, or race?

A. Usually a low-fat, high-carb meal or snack.  But it depends on the type, length, and intensity of your activity, and what you ate on previous days, as well as your metabolism and personal preferences.  If you’re just walking briskly or cycling for 30 to 60 minutes, it doesn’t matter what you eat beforehand. On the other hand, if you’re about to play singles tennis, go on a three-hour bike race, or run for more than an hour, what you eat before — and during — the activity can affect your performance and how you feel.

See what works best for you. There’s no magic pre-exercise meal, but there are some general guidelines for vigorous workouts lasting more than an hour.  It’s best to eat one to four hours before the activity: the shorter the time to the event, the smaller the snack should be.  Choose foods that are high in carbs (preferably complex carbs that are not high in fiber), low in fat, and moderate in protein — such as crackers, pasta, or low-fat yogurt — and that sit well with you.  The goal is to maintain blood sugar and carbohydrate stores.

6. Q. How much fluid should you drink when working out?

A. If you exercise moderately for less than one hour, all you need to do is drink when you’re thirsty — and water is fine. But for prolonged exercise, especially in hot weather, you should make an effort to drink plenty of fluids. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking fluids (about an ounce for every 10 pounds of body weight) at least four hours beforehand.  Also, drink at regular intervals during long workouts, even if you are not thirsty, and drink adequately afterwards. For endurance exercises, beverages with low to moderate sugar content as well as some potassium and sodium, such as sports drinks, are recommended.

7. Q. Should you exercise muscles in any particular order?

A. It’s usually best to exercise large muscle groups (such as thighs, chest, and back) first, since they require more effort — but routines may vary. You may also want to exercise the muscles most important in your goals first — for instance, core muscles in your torso, if you’re trying to strengthen your back and/or tighten your abdominals.  Always work opposing muscles.  That is, if you work the quadriceps (front of thighs), don’t forget the hamstrings (behind the thighs); biceps and triceps are another opposing pair.

8. Q.  Should you warm up before exercising?

A. There is little or no downside, though it’s not clear if it improves performance or reduces injuries. For years, coaches and sports medicine experts recommend warming up with calisthenics, brisk walking, or some other activity to help ease the body into a strenuous workout. The problem is, there’s little solid research backing up this advice.  In terms of stretching, most studies have found that it does not protect against exercise-induced injuries.  Still, it may feel good to stretch before working out.

9. Q. What about cooling down?

A. Again, it can’t hurt and it often feels good. Cooling down by gradually diminishing the intensity of your workout at the end is supposed to reduce your heart rate more slowly and return your body to a state of rest, thus lowering the risk of soreness and even a heart attack.  While that sounds sensible, there hasn’t been much good research showing benefits. Still, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends cooling down because it lowers heart and breathing rates, and helps prevent pooling of blood in the legs, which can cause light-headedness and fainting. In particular, it advises people taking medication for hypertension to cool down, since some of the drugs can cause blood pressure to drop even lower, following an abrupt end to vigorous exercise.

10. Q.  Is it okay to be a “weekend warrior” — someone who exercises, works out, or plays a sport only on weekends?

A. It’s better than not exercising, but more frequent workouts are preferable. Some of the physiological benefits of exercise — on blood pressure, for instance —are relatively short-lasting.  Moreover, the risk of injury is greater with occasional workouts, especially if you are cramming in strenuous activities. Your muscles may not have time to adapt to the stress of exercise.  The best plan is to make time for some exercise most days — even 10 minutes now and then.  If you have to limit your vigorous workouts to the weekends, try not to push too hard.

I hope this article will help you better understand exercises, and derive optimum health benefits from them.

AMERICAN COLLEGE OF SPORTS MEDICINE BODY EVEN EXERCISE HEART RATE WEIGHT
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