Exercise Comes in Two Flavors
The best exercise programs combine aerobic and anaerobic activity:
Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and causes you to consume more oxygen. Every cell in your body requires a constant supply of oxygen, and if you've been a couch potato for years, many of those cells are being deprived. This is why, once you accustom yourself to a regular routine of aerobic exercise, you will begin to feel better than you did before.
If it's been a long time since you did any vigorous activity, consider getting some professional advice from both your doctor and a certified fitness expert. It's important that you start slowly and learn how to stretch, warm up and cool down in order to avoid injury. You also may want to try an exercise trampoline. This is a gentle way to increase the stress on your bones and send a signal to the vertebrae to lay down more calcium along the stress-bearing planes.
Exercise such as walking, golf, doubles tennis, horseback riding, Ping-Pong and dancing may only mildly increase the pumping action of your heart, but they are still tremendous improvements for a former non-exerciser. If you fall into that category, walking is the best way to begin. If you are someone who hasn't walked more than two blocks in years, you'll notice an immediate and great change in how feel. Walk five blocks, and then try six. If it's hard on you today, take comfort in the certainty that the stiffness will ease, your breathing will improve and relaxing endorphins will be released into your body. And before you know it, you'll be walking a mile. Moving can and will feel good—it's actually what your body was built to do and what it wants! Remember, Mother Nature did not design us for our sedentary modern lifestyle.
Anaerobic exercise is any type of physical activity that isn't significantly aerobic. This includes exercise that builds muscle mass, such as weight lifting. It also includes other types of training such as resistance and isometrics. Building muscle mass does not mean becoming one of those bulging bodybuilders. If you keep at it, you will begin to notice a gradual sculpting taking place under your skin—and you're going to like how it looks. But if vanity doesn't drive you to take up some weight-bearing exercise, maybe the fear of frailty will. It is this type of exercise that helps stave off the loss of bone density that accompanies aging. This is why resistance training is so important to prevent osteoporosis.
1. Jespersen, J., Hein, H.O., Suadicani, P., et al., "Triglyceride Concentration and Ischemic Heart Disease: An Eight-Year Follow-Up in the Copenhagen Male Study," Circulation, 97(11), 1998, pages 1029-1036.