Regular physical activity—exercise that is done on most days of the week—has many health benefits. It can help you prevent or control disease, lose weight, and feel better. Exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle.

 

Benefits of Exercise

 

Exercise can strengthen your heart and promote the health of your blood vessels. It helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which can reduce your risk of

heart disease. Regular exercise also can provide the following health benefits: strengthen your muscles, Increase your flexibility, give you more energy, help control your weight. Exercise can also help build and maintain strong bones. It helps slow the bone loss that occurs as women age and begin to develop osteoporosis.

Regular exercise also lowers the risk of diabetes and certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer. Women who are not active are at increased risk for these health problems.

Exercise is good for your mind as well as your body. Staying active promotes mental well-being, relieves stress, helps you sleep better, and can help ease depression and anxiety.

 

Target Heart Rate for Women

 

Aerobic exercise helps condition your heart. You should exercise so that your heart beats at the level that gives it the best workout. This level is called the target heart rate. To find your target heart rate, look for the age category closest to your age and read the line across. Your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart can beat) is usually 220 minus your age. Your target heart rate is 50–85% of the maximum.

During exercise, you should check your heart rate to see if you are near your target heart rate. Count the beats by feeling the pulse on the inside of your wrist or on the angle of your jaw for 10 seconds. Multiply this count by 6 to get the number of beats per minute.

You should aim to exercise about 20–30 minutes while in your target heart rate. When you begin an exercise program, aim for the lower range of your target heart rate (50%). As you get into better shape, gradually build up to the higher end (85%). But you do not need to exercise at 85% to stay fit.

 

Types of Exercise

 

There are two types of exercises—cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise and strength training. A mix of both is best. In addition to these exercises, every workout should include exercises to promote flex-ibility. This means careful stretching of the muscles and joints. Some exercise programs, such as pilates and yoga, are specifically designed to improve flexibility. A water-based program, such as water aerobics, is a popular way to promote flexibility with reduced risk of injury. The support of the water allows joints to move freely. This type of exercise often is less painful for patients who are recovering from an injury.

All strength training and some cardiovascular exercise is weight bearing. This means that, during exercise, your body is supporting your weight against gravity. This promotes bone density and protects against osteoporosis.

 

Cardiovascular Exercise

 

Cardiovascular exercise causes your heart and lungs to work harder to build fitness. Improving the fitness of your heart and lungs increases your body’s ability to use oxygen. Also, it burns calories, which helps you lose weight.

Cardiovascular exercise also helps build endurance. The more endurance you have, the longer you can exercise.

Examples of cardiovascular exercise are: swimming, running, bicycling, walking, cross-country skiing and aerobic activities.

 

Walking

 

Walking is one of the most flexible forms of physical activity. It can be done almost anywhere at any time. You should use these common sense tips to keep safe and avoid injury: choose a safe place to walk, start gradually, warm up before walking and cool down afterwards, drink plenty of water, wear walking shoes with thick flexible soles, wear clothes that will keep you dry, comfortable, and visible to traffic.
Avoid intense walking in extremely hot or cold weather.
You should aim to walk at least 30 minutes above your regular physical activity on all or most days of the week. During a moderately paced session you will walk about 1,000 steps in 10 minutes. To maintain or lose weight you should walk longer or faster—at least 10,000 steps per day.

Following these rules will help you get the most out of your walking session: keep your chin up and shoulders back, walk so that the heel of your foot touches the ground first, point your toes forward and swing your arms as you walk.

 

Strength Training

 

Strength training, also called resistance training, builds muscle and slows bone loss. Exerting force on your muscles and bones helps to strengthen them. As you build muscle, your body will become more toned. The more muscle you have, the better your body burns calories.

Examples of strength training include: lifting weights,using weight machines,using resistance bands, push-ups, leg lifts, squats and sit-ups.

 

Exercise Guidelines

 

How often and how much you exercise depends on your goals. If you want to lower the risk of chronic disease—exercise at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. If you want to maintain weight—exercise about 60 minutes on most days of the week. You should not eat more calories than you burn. If you want to lose weight—exercise at least 60–90 minutes on most days of the week. You will likely have to reduce the number of calories you eat.
Try to do a combination of cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises every day. Activities such as gardening or dancing also can help burn calories or tone your muscles.

 

Aerobic Activities

 

Aerobic activities are a popular form of cardiovascular exercise among women of all ages. Common types of aerobic activities include the following: aerobic dancing (rhythmic exercises based on a variety of dance forms, such as disco, jazz, and ballet that are performed to music), water aerobic (aerobic exercises performed in the water to reduce stress on the joints), low-impact aerobics (aerobic dancing without high kicks and leaps during which at least one foot is on the ground at all times to reduce stress on the joints).

 

Getting Started

 

If you are in good health, you do not have to see your doctor before you begin a moderate exercise program. However, some people may need extra care.

You should talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program if you are older than 50 years and plan a vigorous program, have a chronic medical condition or are at increased risk of a medical condition, are very overweight (obese), or are pregnant.

You may want to consult a fitness instructor who will set a routine for you to follow under his or her supervision or on your own. A fitness instructor can show you how to perform certain movements to avoid strain or other injury. Many gyms offer this service.
There also are many videos, books, and magazines available on exercise and fitness. You may want to ask a fitness instructor to suggest a video that will match your level of fitness.

If it has been some time since you have exercised regularly, you should start exercising slowly and gradually. You can spread exercise throughout the day. Plan your exercise program to suit your interests and lifestyle.

 

Warming Up and Cooling Down

 

Each exercise session should include a warm-up and a cool-down period. Warm-up exercises prepare your heart and muscles for more intense activity and prevent injuries. Cooling down helps your body return to normal after exercise.

 

Pregnant Women and Older Women

 

If you were physically active before pregnancy, you can remain active during pregnancy. If there are no complications, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise every day is healthy. You should avoid activities with a risk of falling, such as basketball, gymnastics, or horseback riding. You also should avoid deep scuba diving because of the risk of decompression. If you were not active before getting pregnant or you have a medical condition, you should talk with your doctor to plan a safe exercise program.

Women also should continue to exercise as they age. Older women who have not exercised before should work with a doctor to plan an exercise program and start slowly. Old age, a medical condition, or physical impairment should not be a reason for not exercising.

Start the exercise session with a warm-up period for 5–10 minutes. This is light activity, such as slow walking or stationary cycling at a low resistance.

After exercising, cool down by slowly reducing your activity. This allows your heart rate to return to near-normal levels. Cooling down for 5–10 minutes and stretching will increase flexibility and prevent muscle soreness. Hold stretches for 20–30 seconds and do not bounce. To avoid overheating, do not use a hot tub or sauna and do not take a hot shower until you have cooled down completely from exercise.

 

Warning Signs

 

Most women can exercise at some level without any risk. However, any activity done in excess or the wrong way can cause injuries and long-term problems. To avoid injury during a workout, you need to use common sense and pay attention to your body’s messages.

The following are signs that you may be working too hard: excessive muscle soreness or pain, pain, problems breathing, feeling very tired for the whole workout, nausea, vomiting, faintness, dizziness and irregular heartbeat. If any of these signs occur, you should stop working out. The next time you exercise, do not work quite so hard. If you still have problems, see your doctor.

 

Injuries

 

Women who routinely exercise too much may get injuries because of repeated stress on their muscles and bones. These injuries include stress fractures, shin splints (which cause pain at the lower front part of the leg), and knee injuries. Exercises that can cause stress injuries include high-impact aerobics and running.

One way to avoid injury is to rest on some days or alternate between vigorous and lighter activity. Another way is to cross-train, which means doing different activities, such as tennis and swimming. Water-based activities, such as swimming or water aerobics, are low-impact exercises that are ideal for older women. Water aerobics, however, is not a weight-bearing exercise and will not help prevent osteoporosis.

Regular exercise promotes a healthy heart and lowers your risk of many health problems. It also can give you more energy, help control your weight, and make you feel better. Find exercise that you enjoy and take time to exercise every day. Making exercise a part of your lifestyle will have long-term benefits.