To put it simply, exercise is any activity that exerts your body beyond the point reached in normal daily activities. Sometimes we forget the simplicity of the definition. We get so caught up with shoes, gyms, programs, stopwatches, science, clothing, and fads with funny names like “yogilates”, “Super Power Sets”, and “Pole Dancing” that we give up on the whole idea of exercise.
Throw all those complicated notions aside. Exercise is nothing more than moving your body for good health. Of course, some exercise is better than others, and different types of movement do affect your body in different ways. But understanding the different types is easy – and so is doing it! – if you don’t let marketers or trainers or health magazine complicate things.
The four essential types of fitness are Endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. Today I want to talk about the first one, Endurance.
Endurance activities are those that challenge large groups of muscles, such as those in your legs or arms and shoulders, for at least 10 consecutive minutes. The most obvious examples are walking, biking, and swimming but endurance activities also include lifestyle movements such as washing windows, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, gardening, mowing the lawn, raking, and pruning. A round of golf – without a cart – That counts too!
These activities provide the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to protecting against the effects of chronic disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. One major reason: Endurance exercises strengthen not only the muscle groups being used but also your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. That’s why endurance exercise is also called aerobic exercise: the word aerobic basically means it involves oxygen, which is what your heart, lungs, and circulatory system are all about.
Endurance exercise is also the most straight forward. To build endurance, you just do you preferred activity at a high rate of intensity for as long as you are comfortable. Come back to it in the next day or two, and you’ll be able to do it a little longer. And so it goes.
So what is a high enough rate of intensity? It’s simple: Work hard enough to make yourself breathe harder than usual. Want me to be more specific than that? There are measurements you can take to more objectively gauge your ongoing exertion, but they often involve purchased gear such as a heart rate monitor. Instead, just measure your own rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This simply means your innate sense of how hard you’re working.
In determining your RPE, 10 is the highest level of intensity; it essentially means you can’t catch your breath and are about to fall over from exertion. Zero is the lowest level of intensity: it means you’ve probably been lying comfortably on your sofa for the past hour. When you’re engaged in endurance activities, aim for somewhere between 5, which is moderate, and 7, which is strong.
Another way to know that you’re working hard enough is that you’ll be sweating and slightly out of breath but still able to talk. Increase the intensity, and you may find yourself only able to gasp out “yes” or “no”. Any higher, and you need to bring it down a level.
So, how long do you need to exercise? Ideally, for up to 30 minutes of consecutive exertion is best. For now, though, start with 10 minutes. That’s the minimum length of time in which you can get the respiratory and cardiovascular benefits you seek.
Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much, but if you’ve been inactive for some time you should start slowly. This is not the time to head out for a 30-minute hill climb. Instead start with a 10-minute walk. Every day, add another five minutes and increase your speed until you’re doing 30 minutes at the “breathing-hard-but-can-still-talk” level. As you get into shape, you’ll find your workout gets easier. And as it gets easier, you can either choose to up the intensity or settle in at healthy fitness plateau.
Even better, start to diversify your endurance activities. If walking comes easily, then perhaps it’s time to take up swimming or tennis or to get out your bicycle and take to the road. One great thing about endurance activities is that they tend to be done outdoors, making them much more natural and fun than being in a gym.
Your call to action is to pick one activity and do it today!
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