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Healthy Lifestyle

Regular physical activity (daily or almost-daily exercise) has many health benefits and is key to living a healthy lifestyle. It can help you prevent or control disease, lose weight and feel good. Learn about the benefits of exercise, the different types of exercise and important safety tips.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is good for the mind and the body. Staying active improves mental well-being, relieves stress and helps prevent and control disease. Inactive women are at an increased risk for a number of health problems. Regular exercise:

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise improves the fitness of your heart and lungs and increases your body’s ability to use oxygen. It also builds endurance and burns calories, which helps you lose weight. Examples include:

  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Bicycling
  • Walking
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Aerobic activities

Strength Training

Strength training, also called resistance training, builds muscle and slows bone loss. Exerting force on your muscles and bones helps to strengthen them. As you build muscle, your body becomes more toned. The more muscle you have, the better your body burns calories. Examples include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using weight machines
  • Using resistance bands
  • Push-ups
  • Leg lifts
  • Squats
  • Sit-ups

Exercise Guidelines

There are many long-term benefits to making exercise a part of your lifestyle. Regular exercise promotes a healthy heart, lowers your risk of health problems, increases energy, helps control weight and makes you feel good.

Try to do a combination of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises every day. Even activities such as gardening and dancing help burn calories and tone muscles. How often and how much you exercise depends on your goals.

  • To lower your risk of chronic disease, exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • To maintain your weight, exercise for 60 minutes on most days of the week and don’t eat more calories than you burn.
  • To lost weight, exercise for 60 to 90 minutes on most days of the week and lower your caloric intake.

Injuries

Repeated stress on muscles and bones may cause injuries in women who exercise too much. Excessive high-impact aerobics and running can cause stress fractures, knee injuries and shin splints, which cause pain at the lower front part of the leg.

To avoid injury, rest on some days or alternate between vigorous and lighter activities; cross-train by doing different activities, such as tennis and swimming; or do low-impact water-based activities, such as swimming or water aerobics. (Keep in mind, however, that water aerobics is not a weight-bearing exercise and will not help prevent osteoporosis.)

woman stretching

Guidelines & Warning Signs

Getting Started

If you’re in good health, you do not have to see your doctor before beginning a moderate exercise program. However, some people may need extra care. Talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program if you:

  • Are older than 50 and plan to engage in vigorous activity
  • Have a chronic medical condition or are at increased risk of a medical condition
  • Are very overweight or obese
  • Are pregnant

When beginning an exercise program, you may want to consult a fitness instructor. He or she can set a routine for you to follow (under his or her supervision or on your own), and show you how to perform certain movements and avoid strains and other injuries. Many gyms offer this service. If not, there are many fitness-related videos, books and magazines that can help you achieve your goals.

If it has been some time since you last exercised, you should begin slowly and gradually. Plan an exercise program that suits your interests and lifestyle. You can choose to do it at the same time each day or spread it throughout the day.

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Each exercise session should begin with a 5- to 10-minute warm-up period and end with a 5- to 10-minute cool-down period.

Warm-up exercises light activities, such as slow walking or stationary cycling at a low resistance prepare your heart and muscles for more intense activity and prevent injuries.

Cooling down by slowly reducing your activities lowers your heart rate and helps your body return to normal after exercise. Stretching during this time will increase flexibility and prevent muscle soreness. Hold stretches for 20 to 30 seconds and do not bounce. To avoid overheating, do not use a hot tub or sauna or take a hot shower until you have completely cooled down.

Warning Signs

Most women can exercise at some level without any risk. However, activities done in excess or the wrong way can cause injuries and long-term problems. To avoid injury during a workout, use common sense and pay attention to your body’s messages. Here are some signs that you may be working too hard:

  • Excessive muscle soreness or pain
  • Pain
  • Problems breathing
  • Feeling very tired throughout the whole workout
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat

If any of these signs occur, stop working out. The next time you exercise, do not work quite so hard. If you still have problems, see your doctor.