Do you ever wonder if exercise really benefits you? How much do I actually need? What types of exercises should I do? How do I start? Let’s talk about these important questions.  

How does exercise benefit you?

Long-standing research consistently demonstrates that regular exercise combined with a healthy diet is effective in preventing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, regular exercise and proper nutrition aid in maintaining a healthy body weight and body composition, boosting the immune function and improving brain health and function. These physical benefits improve your psychological and emotional well-being by lessening anxiety, depression, stress and anger.  And these are just a few of the benefits regular exercise can provide. 

How much exercise do I need?

Leading health institutions such as the American College of Sports Medicine and U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommend that healthy adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week for general health. For additional health and fitness benefits, healthy adults can do as much as double those numbers. Keep in mind that increasing your activity too quickly increases risk for injury, so increase your minutes gradually. In addition, adults should engage in some type of resistive training exercises such as weight training or body weight exercises twice a week. Experts agree some activity is better than none. So, get moving! Motion is lotion! However, before starting any type of regular exercise program, you should see a doctor if you’ve primarily led a sedentary lifestyle, have heart problems or other medical conditions or if you are going to engage in high intensity exercise for the first time.  

What type of exercises should I do?

Five components of health-related fitness are important in determining what type of exercises and exercise programs you choose.

  1. Cardiorespiratory endurance exercises raise your heart rate through continuous movement such as jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing, rowing or power walking at moderate to high levels of intensity. It is recommended you perform cardio exercises 3-5 days a week for 20-60 minutes.
  2. Muscular strength is described as the maximum effort a muscle or muscle group can exert at one time. Muscular strength aids in activities such as lifting heavy boxes left on your front door or picking up your child. You can increase strength by lifting heavier weights and fewer repetitions. For example, you might do 1-5 repetitions of a heavy or challenging weight while performing squats or shoulder presses.
  3. Muscular endurance is the ability to hold or repeat muscular contractions over a period of time. A plank is an exercise that holds a contraction, and a sit-up is an exercise that repeats muscular contraction. Developing muscular endurance requires training with lighter weight and performing a higher rep count such as 15-20 repetitions of a squat or shoulder press. Exercise all major muscle groups 2-3 nonconsecutive days for strength training. To develop a combination of endurance and strength, 8-12 reps of moderate heavy weight is recommended. A simple strength plan would involve your major muscle groups and include a combination of squats, sit-ups and push-ups.
  4. Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion. Flexibility exercises should be performed 2-3 times a week at a minimum but more often is better. Cardio and strength training require rest days, but flexibility can be done every day of the week. The two most common stretching techniques are static stretching and dynamic stretching. A static stretch is held at its end range to the point that you are able to feel the stretch or pull but not pain and is often best after a workout. Your muscles should be warm before static stretching so stretching after a workout is ideal. Examples of static stretches include forward fold at the hips reaching toward your toes or an arm across the body for a shoulder stretch. Hold static stretches for 10-30 seconds for 2-4 repetitions. Dynamic stretching is continuous moving of the joint in a controlled manner through its range of motion and is often used in warm-ups prior to a workout. Dynamic stretches include arm circles, leg swings or lunges. They are often used for functional movements preparing your body for exercise.
  5. Body composition is the proportion of fat and fat free mass in the body. A healthy body composition is very important for maintaining one’s overall health. By incorporating the cardio, muscular strength and endurance training along with a nutritious diet you can reach a healthy body composition.

How do I begin an exercise program?

A great way to incorporate exercise into your week is to schedule it in your calendar and treat it like a class or job. If you are student at UMHB, enroll in an activity fitness course as part of your core credit. Choose a course that excites you such as Lifetime Fitness, Weight Training, Boot Camp, Couch to 5K, CrossFit or Orangetheory. Another option is to participate in UMHB’s Cru-Fit group exercise classes for free which includes Cardio Kickboxing, Zumba, Spinning and Power Cut. As you begin to regularly exercise, you will be amazed at how good you will feel. Remember with any exercise program, start slowly, increase gradually, warm-up, cool-down, listen to your body and find something you enjoy. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, I would like to share quote from a plaque in my office made my one of my students that reminds me of the importance of my spiritual fitness. It says “Exercise daily, walk with the Lord”.

The mission of the Exercise & Sport Science Department at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor is to prepare professionals through excellence in teaching, research and service that promote healthy behaviors and active lifestyles across the lifespan.