Being healthy doesn’t just involve maintaining a well-balanced diet. Instead, diet must go hand in hand with exercise. Daily exercise helps regulate fat cells, helps reduce stress, and it strengthens our muscles, cardiovascular system, and motivation. The progress of this differs from person to person, however. That said, it’s important for you to develop an individualized system of exercise, which means evaluating yourself on a individual level.
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First, it’s crucial to note that there is no one universal system of exercise. It would be hopeless and in err for any professional to suggest a single plan and expect the same results for everyone across the board. Too many factors are involved in fitness: age, genetics, gender, and motivation are just a few. There are, however, universal principles everyone should keep in mind when developing an exercise plan.
Number 1. Where You’re Going – Your Goal
Before you begin, try to determine where it is you would like to head. Are you trying to become a marathon runner or are you simply trying to lose 10 pounds? Are you looking to increase strength or are you looking to increase endurance? Many people just want to exercise to sleep better or to generally live a healthier life than what they are living now, is this you?
Answering these questions on an individual levels sets the foundation. That said, first assess your goal, and then develop your plan.
Number 2. Where You’re Starting From
In determining your goal, try to evaluate your starting position. No two bodies are crafted the same at any given moment in time. Because of this, you should try to position yourself on a reasonable scale. Determine both your body type and activity level. For example, which choice best represents you?: sedentary (0-15 mins of exercise), low active (15-30), active (30-60 mins), very active(60 mins +).
Whichever you chose, ignore it and choose the one a level below. Why do you ask? Most people misrepresent themselves, thinking that “I walk up the stairs at work” or “I walk the dog for 30 minutes every day” is equivalent to a strenuous exercise. As we’ll see, determining the level of exercise is more complex than subjective judgment. This is important because you don't want to overexert yourself. Obese, sedentary individuals should start off slower and with a lighter load than others because their body will feel the most shock.
Also, keep in mind that sedentary (or those who do not frequently exercise) often see quicker and more noticeable results that those who have prior exercise experience. Why? Refer to the idea of muscle memory – those who exercised in the past are able to jump back into place. Those who have not exercised will immediately start becoming more fit because, as stated, their entire body will feel the shock as no part has been strained before (i.e progress). Immediately, these people will “feel the burn” quicker, as well as feel younger and healthier quicker too.
Number 3. Frequency
After you’ve placed yourself on the scale and determined your goal, you’re ready to choose the first aspect of an exercise regimen: frequency. This, as the name implies, is the rate of occurrence in exercising. In other words, how many days a week will you exercise?
As stated, this depends on your goal. However, in general, if you are simply going to a minimal level of fitness, you should aim at 3-5 days a week.
Number 4. Intensity
Intensity is usually the hardest to determine for a person because it often involves more scientific analysis than simple denotation of days per week. Intensity, then, can be determined a number of ways. First, the harder the exercise (i.e. the more physical stress put on the body) will tell you the intensity. For example, when lifting weights, your one repetition max is a more intense exercise than your 20 or 30 repetition endurance training. Again, however, more intense exercises may only be desirable for those aiming at strength and muscle building rather than endurance.
Another way of determining intensity is by measuring one's VO2 max, or maximum oxygen consumption. This, along with the third way of determining intensity through maximal heart rate, is often safest in a clinical atmosphere, as some people with cardiovascular difficulties may face health risks.
In general, however, use your judgment based on your goal. If you are looking for strength, perform exercises that require your full strength, such as your max bench press and continuously lifting 80 percent of that.
Number 5. Duration
Finally, one must consider duration. This refers to the length of time a person is exercising. This, like frequency, is usually easier to determine than intensity. Once you determine how many calories your body burns per hour in regards to a specific exercise – moderate running, for example – it becomes easy to dictate the amount of time for preferred energy expenditure.
One should note that there is an inverse relationship between duration and intensity; the harder the workout, the less one can perform of it. However, like frequency, there is a suggestion for maintaining a minimal level of fitness in regards to duration: 50-60 minutes a day. While this does not speak to the type of exercise, after evaluating your goals and starting point, it should be easier to determine.
As one can see, there is no definite answer or universal exercise plan. Depending on where you’re starting and where you’re going, two people’s plans of action may look drastically different. Also, the outcome and progress differs from individual to individual, and largely depends on uncontrollable factors like muscle types and genetics.
Regardless, there are things we all can do to better implement our optimal exercise plan. Before making any rash decisions, however, it’s always wise to consult a health professional. Just remember: “Those who don’t make time for exercise will eventually make time for illness” – Earl of Derby, 1863.