Friends and family are often full of advice when you decide it is time to start exercising and get fit. You hear everything from inspirational stories about people becoming marathon runners after reducing their weight by two hundred pounds, to frightening stories about people becoming so obsessed with exercise and weight loss that they become anorexic. A friend’s cousin’s ex-girlfriend became a fitness model, but the cousin’s ex-roommate broke his back by stretching too much before exercise.
It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, but you can make smart choices that will help maximize the results of exercise and help keep you safe.
Women in particular tend to believe that exercise involves walking, running or aerobics. While each of these types of exercise is important for cardiovascular health and fitness, strength training is important, as well. Strength training builds muscle, and having more muscle helps the body burn fat more efficiently. Lifting light weights just two or three times a week can have a positive effect on aerobic workouts. As long as light weights are used, you don’t have to worry about bulking up like a bodybuilder. Go for less weight and more reps for the best results.
Exercise after work
One of the most common questions about exercise concerns the time of day that is best. Is it better in the morning when you first wake up and are fresh, or is it smarter to wait until evening, after dinner when the day is nearly done? The smart answer is somewhat in between: late afternoon (around 4 or 5 o’clock). Your body is likely at its peak condition for exercise at this time. You have been up for a while, stretching and warming the muscles through everyday activities. Your body temperature has stabilized. These factors indicate that your strength and endurance are at their best levels for the day, and the warm, flexible muscles reduce the chance of injury during exercise.
There is some evidence that exercising too close to bed time may interfere with sleep, although the jury is largely still out on this issue. What is most important about the time of day you choose to exercise is that you can do so consistently. If you are exhausted getting home from work at 5:30 pm and just can’t find the energy to exercise, then a morning routine is probably a smarter choice for you.
Exercise at the right level
Your heart rate makes a big difference how exercise affects your body. The American Heart Association has developed a chart that contains maximum heart rates according to age. A smart workout puts your heart rate between 50-85% of that max. For instance, a 30-year-old should aim for a pulse around 100-150 beats per minute.
Exercising within this zone ensures that the body is burning fat. Exercising at too high a rate can actually work against you since the higher rate indicates the body is burning sugar, instead. A lower rate is still effective, but it won’t allow you to get the most from your workout. Finding the correct range for you and checking your pulse periodically through your workout is the smart way to stay in the zone. After a while, you will know what your body feels like when you are in the correct range, and you will recognize the signals of dropping lower or going too high.
Believe it or not, even when you eat affects how you can exercise smart. Exercising immediately after a meal can often cause stomach discomfort, particularly if the meal is large and the workout strenuous. The problem is that the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems are both working hard since the stomach is trying to break down the food at the same time your heart rate and lungs are pumping up. This competition can be difficult for the body.
On the other hand, exercising without having anything to eat at all in the recent past can cause a severe blood sugar drop, making you light-headed, dizzy, and weak. This certainly is not the condition to be in while lifting weights, even light ones.
The smart schedule is to exercise 2-3 hours after eating. The shorter time is fine after a light meal, but 3 hours is better after a heavy one. This timing allows your food to digest but keeps your glucose levels high enough to avoid problems.
Of course, any exercise regimen is more effective if you are willing and able to work out consistently. Using a smart routine helps make exercise sessions more effective. While you may not get the dramatic results friends and family tell you about, you are sure to get a healthier body by using smart techniques.
S. Youngstedt, et al. “Is sleep disturbed by vigorous late-night exercise?” Medical and Science in Sports and Exercise, June 1999.
“Eating and exercise: Time it right to maximize your workout.” Mayoclinic.org.
“Target heart rates.” Americanheart.org.