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The right kind, and amount, of exercise

When you read about the health benefits of physical activity, it almost always sounds like hype for snake oil: “Use this product according to the directions and you will lose weight, age more slowly, reduce stress and tension, and sleep better; it will also tone muscles, strengthen joints and bones, and prevent artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. And it can be yours for free!”

Sounds too good to be true. Do all exercise programs really deliver all of those benefits?

It is true that any exercise you do will be beneficial to some degree. To maximize the health benefits of your exercise program, however, you need to include the right amounts of the right kinds of activities in your program. And the good news is that a balanced exercise program is not a complex secret difficult to design. It just needs to incorporate three major components:

1. Aerobic activity.

Any aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate challenges energy production systems. Our bodies adapt to exercise demands. Benefits include improved fat metabolism and higher levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind associated with reduced risk of artery disease). Greater insulin sensitivity (cells responding better to insulin) results in better blood sugar regulation, which also reduces artery disease risk. Regular aerobic exercise reduces the tendency of blood platelets to clump together, thus decreasing the likelihood of dangerous blood clots. The heart becomes a more efficient pump and beats more slowly at rest. Aerobic exercise requires energy expenditure; burning calories that might otherwise be destined for storage as fat.

2. Resistance training.

When we apply force against a resistance, such as elastic bands or a stack of weight, our muscles, bones and joints adapt by becoming stronger. Denser bones are more resistant to osteoporosis, and strong muscles and joints are less prone to injury. Maintaining adequate strength is especially important as we age. Many older adults become so weak that they can no longer perform the essential tasks required for independent living. While some loss of strength is an inevitable part of the aging process, much of the decrease in strength observed in older people is due to a sedentary lifestyle. Some researchers have noted that with regular resistance training, age-related loss of function could be postponed at least 10 to 20 years for most people.

3. Stretching.

Adequate joint flexibility prevents injury and chronic musculoskeletal problems, such as low-back pain. Like strength, flexibility declines as we age. Regular stretching can slow this decline and reduce stiffness that might keep us from enjoying an activity.

If these are the right kinds of activities, what about the right amount? How much exercise is necessary? The minimal amount of exercise required for producing benefits include three to five times per week of 20 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity. The optimal amount may depend a lot on the individual.

Aerobic exercise appears to be beneficial even at fairly low intensities. But, the lower the intensity, the longer the workout duration needs to be. In other words, 20 minutes per session might be enough if you are working at a high intensity. If you are walking at a moderate pace, 45 minutes to an hour would be a better length. You want to be sure changes in your exercise programs — particularly if they involve increased physical demands — are approved by your doctor if you have health risks or concerns.

If you are new to exercise, start slowly. Go into it for the long haul — it’s a lifetime of activity that counts. Start small and increase length and intensity in gradual increments. For starters, how about two exercise sessions per week that includes some aerobic activity, 10 to 15 minutes of weight work, and five minutes of stretching? Maybe a walk on the weekend?

Remember that daily activity of every kind contributes to physical fitness and better health. Walking to do your errands, working in the garden, playing with the kids, cleaning the house, …all burn calories and contribute to a high-energy lifestyle. To quote fitness-guru Steve Ilg, “Fitness training is a journey ... too much too soon, you can lose interest ... progress at your own pace.”

Kids’ Fishing Derby

Just a quick reminder: the Pagosa Lakes annual Kids’ Fishing Derby will take place tomorrow, Friday, June 4, at Lake Forest from 9 a.m. until noon. The Kids’ Derby is a free event and open to the general public, kids 16 and under. At noon prizes will be awarded (every kid will receive a prize) and a hot dog lunch will be served. The fishing derby is always a lot of fun; the kids enjoy spending the morning with other kids their age in friendly competition. Prizes will include tackle boxes, rods, reels and other fishing tackle and gear.

We will be bringing in several hundred pounds of rainbow trout a few days before the event to help spice things up, including some donated trout from 5-H Trout Farm in Monte Vista. The fishing has been very good over the past several weeks. Please remember to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.