Cold Weather Exercise

Q: With the winter coming, I find it more difficult to get out to exercise. Do you have any ideas?

A: We have great empathy with you—exercise requires motivation even in the finest weather. As winter approaches, outdoor activities become more challenging, especially in the northern climes.

Whatever our environment, it is important to know the benefits of exercise. Some flippantly quip that life consists of so many heartbeats, why waste some of them on exercise? This could not be further from the truth.

There is increasing evidence that regular exercise has wonderful health benefits, including aiding with depression. It improves virtually every aspect of our well-being. Exercise has been proven as a preventive measure in:

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • coronary artery disease
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
  • osteoporosis
  • controlling blood fats (importantly, in elevating HDL)
  • delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s
  • diminishing the recurrence rate of some cancers

Exercise is not only preventive, but it also beneficially influences the outcomes of many of the above diseases.

As we review the literature, we are more and more impressed that exercise is extremely important and very much neglected. Recently, researchers have shown that the three leading causes of death in the United States in 2000 were smoking (435,000), poor diet and physical inactivity (400,000), and alcohol consumption (85,000); this total of almost 40 percent of all the deaths often had associated cardiovascular diseases from these "deathstyles" (as opposed to lifestyles). These figures emphasize the great need to improve diet, promote physical activity, and increase smoking cessation.

So now that we are intellectually convinced (we hope!), how do we go about making exercise the energizer of our existence? Some smart exercise tips include consulting with your physician before you begin—this is most important; using other reliable sources (e.g., www. acsm.org, www.acefitness.com); and avoiding fitness fads—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

The best way to a healthier and happier life is good old-fashioned work. Use this easy acronym: FIT.

Frequency: How often you work out—strive for five or more times per week.

Intensity: If you don't do enough, you won't see the results you need. Avoid strain and pain; start off slowly and build up.

Time: Build up to at least 20 minutes per day over time, and slowly increase the duration of each workout. If you are a beginner, start with five minutes a day, and build up by one minute daily until you reach 20 minutes per day or more.

Variety helps to maintain an exercise program. Boredom is one of the most common reasons people give up on their exercise routines. Walk when circumstances permit; use the stairs instead of the elevator; use a stationary bicycle or a treadmill—variety will take you a long way!

Set realistic goals in your initiative:

  • Cut out the candies and refined foods.
  • Aim to lose one pound a week if weight loss is an objective.
  • Gradually increase your workout time

Write down these goals, and place them where you will see them daily. Get help from meaningful resources. Apart from the Web sites mentioned above, Kenneth Cooper's book on aerobic exercises (first published more than 20 years ago) is still available. Many of these exercises can be done indoors when the weather is bad. Aerobic exercise is good for improving cardiac fitness. Weight-bearing exercise (the use of weights and other forms of resistance) is particularly important for muscle strength and combating osteoporosis.

Remember the children. They need to be active and informed by precept and example of the benefits of exercise. Childhood and teenage obesity has become a major problem in developed countries.

Exercise needs to be a way of life. It adds to the quality and enhancement of life. It also helps to lessen those winter blues and the regrets of excessive eating, especially when the summer wardrobe is donned!

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