The closest thing to a "magic bullet" for maintaining youth and optimal health is a well-balanced combination of exercise and proper nutrition. The entire body benefits from this formula, both physically and psychologically.
Regular exercise improves digestion and elimination, increases endurance and energy levels, promotes lean body mass while burning fat, and lowers overall blood cholesterol while increasing the proportion of "good" cholesterol (HDL) to "bad" cholesterol (LDL). Exercise also reduces stress and anxiety, which are contributing factors to many illnesses and conditions. In addition to physical benefits, studies have shown that regular exercise elevates mood, increases feelings of well-being, and reduces depression.
Those who exercise regularly report that they feel better, have more energy, and often lose excess weight while improving their muscular strength and flexibility. Greater body satisfaction is associated with increases in exercise participation. Moreover, many who exercise regularly adopt a healthier lifestyle - abandoning smoking, excessive drinking, and poor nutritional habits.
Exercise compensates in several ways for the changes that accompany aging. It helps prevent the loss of muscle and can even help regain lost muscle. It helps preserve bone mass, prevent brittle bones, and even build bone. It boosts the resting metabolic rate and therefore aids in weight control, and it improves aerobic capacity just as it does in younger people. Exercise helps prevent hardening of the arteries as we get older and can halt or reverse the buildup of fatty deposits in the coronary arteries.
Exercise includes a variety of movements and different activities. Recreational exercise is meant for enjoyment and relaxation, while therapeutic exercise is intended to alleviate or prevent a particular problem. Sometimes an exercise can both be recreational and therapeutic. Take swimming, for example. With careful attention to arm and shoulder movements, swimming can meet both the recreational and therapeutic needs of someone who has arthritis of the shoulder.
There are a number of exercise types, each of which has a specific purpose:
• Aerobic (which literally means "to exercise with oxygen") or endurance exercise improves the body's capacity to use fuel and oxygen. Swimming, bicycle riding, jogging, and power walking are examples of this type of exercise. The body's cardiovascular system benefits through increased blood supply to the muscles and enhanced oxygen delivery throughout the body. Just 20 minutes a day of sustained aerobic activity can lower blood pressure and strengthen heart function.
• Anaerobic exercise ("to exercise without oxygen") occurs when the demands made on a muscle are great enough that it uses up all of the available oxygen and starts to burn stored energy without oxygen. This type of exercise for burning energy produces lactic acid. As lactic acid builds up in the muscles, it causes pain. That's one reason why you can't carry on anaerobic exercises very long. Weight lifting is a classic example.
• Range-of-motion exercise helps maintain a joint's complete movement by putting a body part through its maximum available range of motion. Extending and moving one's arms in wide circular motions is an example of this. Some degree of flexibility is required to perform range-of-motion exercises, so stretching is recommended beforehand.
• Strengthening exercises help a muscle's ability to contract and do work. Doing sit-ups, for example, is a way of strengthening abdominal muscles.
Consult your physician before you begin an exercise program if you smoke, are overweight, are older than 40 years and have never exercised, or have a chronic condition such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, lung disease, or kidney disease. The risks of exercise stem from doing too much, too vigorously, with too little previous activity.
If you are medically able to begin a program, here are some helpful tips:
1. Begin gradually. Don't overdo it.
2. Select the exercise that is right for you. Something enjoyable and tolerable. Otherwise, in time you will avoid it.
3. Do it regularly but moderately.
Frequency: Exercise at least three to four times a week.
Intensity: Aim for about 60% of your maximal aerobic capacity. You don't want to push yourself to your maximum heart rate; yet you must exercise at about 60%-85% of that maximum to get cardiovascular benefits from your exercise training. This range is called target heart rate.
The following formulas can be used to calculate your maximum and target heart rates (in beats per minute).
For men... 220 - Age = Maximum heart rate.
Maximum heart rate x .60 = Target heart rate.
Example for a 20-year-old man:
220 - 20 = 200 (Maximum heart rate).
200 x .60 = 120 beats per minute (Target heart rate).
For women, the formula is as follows:
225 - Age = Maximum heart rate.
Maximum heart rate x .60 = Target heart rate.
Example for a 20-year old woman:
225 - 20 = 205 (Maximum heart rate).
205 x .60 = 123 beats per minute (Target heart rate).
Time (duration): Set a goal of at least 20 to 30 minutes a session. If you're not used to exercise, start at a comfortable length of time and gradually work up to your goal.
Always warm up and cool down. Stretch and warm-up to help loosen muscles; stretch in cool-down to increase flexibility.
REMEMBER: The fountain of youth is within you. Almost all health problems you are facing today are not medical but lifestyle and nutritional problems - something you yourself can, and must, change.