As you consider your exercise goals, it is vital to include these key elements to promote optimal fitness: Exercises that build muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance.
Please note that this article is not intended as medical advice. Each exercise and nutrition plan must be personalized to take into account your specific medical history, health concerns and health and fitness goals. Meeting with your primary care physician to determine any health concerns and exercise restrictions is paramount BEFORE beginning any exercise program. Contact a certified personal trainer to discuss your health goals so that a customized exercise program can be created just for you.
Before we highlight the essential elements for a complete fitness program, let's define a couple of terms. Muscular strength is the ability to exert maximal or near maximal force against a resistance. Muscle development leads to a stronger skeletal system. Studies show that muscular strength can lessen or prevent injuries. Muscular endurance is defined as the length of time muscles can exert force. It doesn't have to be at maximal force. The length of time is key here, Though lifting weights is part of resistance training, there are other factors to consider including: the selection of specific weight training exercises, what equipment to use, what muscle groups to work, when to work them and how often is dependent upon you, your body and your specific health goals. The benefits of building muscular endurance are reduced risk of injury, improved body posture and the ability to do daily tasks more easily. Despite muscle mass often reducing with age, this does not have to be the case. Studies continue to show that muscle can be gained throughout the life cycle.
Another key component to add to your exercise routine is flexibility. Just like building muscle, flexibility also reduces the risk of injury. Whether you begin a stretching program at the gym, yoga studio or at home, it is important to start slowly. It is vital to use proper stretching techniques, just as it is with weight training, to limit the risk of injury. Contacting a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise is a great place to start so that the flexibility component to your exercise program is safe and effective.
Lastly, the inclusion of cardiovascular exercises that work the heart toward max heart rate and build endurance are also critical to a complete exercise program. There are numerous ways to build cardiovascular fitness, whether by running, speed walking, hiking, skiing, skating, swimming, cycling, spin classes...the sky is the limit. If you are currently sedentary, start slowly (with your doctor's permission) and gradually increase the amount of exercise time, the intensity and number of times per week. This will help to prevent injuries, reduce muscle soreness and will build cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Choose an activity you love to do and you are more likely to stick with it.
Setting realistic, measurable and attainable health and fitness goals are essential when designing your exercise program. Considering activities that build muscular endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance are key to creating a well-rounded fitness regimen. Start slowly and as you see your initial goals realized, take the next step. Each health goal you set and achieve for yourself is a step toward better health. Good luck!