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FITNESS: A TIME TO TAKE ACTION

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Fitness should be fun, according to two LDS experts who emphasize that finding an enjoyable method of exercise is the key to a successful fitness program.

Four-time LDS Olympian Henry Marsh and Dr. A. Garth Fisher, director of the Human Performance Research Center at BYU, emphasize "if physical activity is healthy but unpleasant, forget it. It won't last long.""The most important principles of fitness and nutrition, in my mind, are consistency, variety and fun," said Marsh, a Primary teacher in the North Canyon 4th Ward, Bountiful Utah North Canyon Stake. "It is important to have daily physical activity, to develop positive habits that, over the long run, will bring tremendous results."

While Marsh, a highly conditioned athlete, can jump into rigorous physical activities, most beginners should take it easy. Fisher, first counselor in the bishopric of the Edgemont 16th Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont Stake, urges constraint when starting an exercise program.

"After choosing an activity that is fun," Fisher said, "start slowly. Don't try to do too much the first few times out. If you begin slowly and progress slowly, the chance of injury decreases dramatically. If you notice any abnormal responses from your body, check with your doctor. You should do that, anyway, before beginning."

"Be consistent and be gradual," exhorted Marsh. "People are better off getting out and walking for five minutes than doing nothing. The body was meant to move, and people need to get it moving.

"Go on a little walk, then rest a day, then gradually work up. Eventually, you will want to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes four to six days a week. But don't worry about how long it takes to reach that level. You've got a lifetime. We're not talking about going through an exercise program to temporarily change; we're talking about permanent lifestyle changes. That is the only way people are going to be happy with their health and their lives."

Marsh said time spent exercising is a good investment.

"Exercise gives you more energy, more power to cope with life's pressures. Exercise needs to be a priority. That time should be guarded each day. I don't look at exercise as a time-waster, but as a creator of time. It makes the rest of your time more productive and is wonderful for self-esteem."

TRAINING TABLE

Though exercise enables people to "fudge" a bit on their eating habits, according to Henry Marsh, they shouldn't expect to improve their physical condition while filling up on fats and sugar. A person who is exercising should, however, be able to eat all he or she wants of the right kinds of foods, said the four-time Olympian.

"You should never be hungry," Marsh emphasized. "You can eat all the fruits, vegetables and other complex carbohydrates you want, such as plain potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread. People who are at their ideal weight often eat more than those who are overweight. Why? They are out moving; they are exercising."

What are the right kinds of foods? Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants provides guidelines as good as those given anywhere:

-"Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving."

-" . . . flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air. . . . nevertheless they are to be used sparingly."

-"All grain is good for the use of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground. . . ." (D&C 89:11, 12, 16.)

Dr. A. Garth Fisher noted that finding time to prepare the kinds of natural foods recommended in the Word of Wisdom is sometimes difficult. "Since all of us are pressed for time, we often develop bad habits, like skipping meals or eating too often in fast-food restaurants," he said. But Fisher shared some basic eating suggestions that can help:

1. Eat a good breakfast.

2. If you must eat fast foods, choose wisely. Smart choices include salad, baked potato, clear soup and low-fat sandwiches. Avoid creamy dressings, bacon bits, and potato and macaroni salad.

3. Keep healthful snacks on hand. Good munchies during a physical workout or any time include fresh fruit, nuts or seeds, unbuttered popcorn, rice cakes and whole-wheat crackers.

4. Eat plenty of foods rich in calcium.

5. Minimize sugar intake.

6. Drink a lot of water. Your body needs at least eight glasses a day.

7. Whenever possible, prepare your own meals and snacks. They are bound to be better for you than processed foods, which contain large amounts of fat and sodium.

A low-fat, high-fiber balanced diet of 1,200 to 1,500 calories daily is optimum for lifelong weight control, according to fitness experts. Develop a diet, they say, that lets you eat as much as you want of acceptable foods. Fiber moves through the system most quickly and efficiently. Oats are the best grain for reducing harmful low-density cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease.

STICK WITH IT

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,

Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. (Luke 14:28-30.)

Many people begin fitness programs with bursts of enthusiasm, not realistically "counting the cost" in time and effort _ only to give up three or four weeks later after the excitement fades.

In a recent issue of Your Health & Fitness, Dr. William T. Friedewald, associate director for disease prevention and health promotion at the National Institutes of Health, offered seven suggestions on how to keep an exercise program going:

-Set a goal: You may want to look better, feel better or sleep better. Whatever it is, formulate your goal.

-Choose exercises that appeal to you: A running program or membership in a health club may intimidate some people, but almost anybody can start walking.

-Make your workouts convenient: Select activities that fit easily into your schedule, or they become too much trouble to pursue.

-Follow a routine: Exercise can and should be habit forming that needs to become a regular part of your lifestyle to do the greatest good.

-Find a partner: The buddy system is a big factor in motivating people to continue exercising.

-Exercise safely: Be careful not to overdo it and injure yourself, especially when starting.

-Make exercise a priority: The benefits of regular exercise spill over into other facets of life. Physical health is a key component of spiritual, mental and emotional health. Fitness requires an ongoing commitment, so stick with it.

HEART OF THE MATTER

Aerobic activity is the "heart" of a successful fitness program.

Exercises that involve large muscle groups (legs, arms, shoulders) and are rhythmic in nature and elevate the heart rate to training levels (see accompanying box) are aerobic. They strengthen the body's most important muscle - the heart - and tone the muscle groups the exercises affect, according to Dr. A. Garth Fisher.

Examples of aerobic activity include running, cycling and swimming. Each uses large muscle groups and requires numerous repetitions.

Sports such as tennis, racquetball, basketball and volleyball have so much start-stop activity that they do not sustain a high heart rate and are not considered aerobic. They do, however, provide some good exercise value.

Fisher said that to be effective, aerobic exercise needs to be sustained for a minimum of 20 minutes. A basic rule of frequency is 4-6 times a week.

"You should train at moderate intensity - about 80 percent of maximum heart rate, 60 percent when starting," said Fisher. "You can tell if you are there by your breathing. If you breathe heavily but can still talk, that's about right. The talk test is a good guideline to maintaining moderate intensity. If you can't converse, you are pushing too much.

"Another important thing is to warm up and cool down to be sure the body adapts without too much abruptness. Start gradually and slow down gradually."

Here is a close-up look by Dr. Fisher at the pros and cons of eight good aerobic exercises:

-Running - Advantages: Easy to do, no special equipment except good shoes, a quick workout that rapidly elevates heart rate.

Disadvantages: Potential injuries to legs and knees because of pounding.

-Walking - Advantages: Easy, no special equipment except comfortable shoes, little danger of injury, a good social activity.

Disadvantages: None.

-Cycling - Advantages: Exciting and a lot of fun, smooth with no jarring, travel great distances in short time, good indoors with stationary cycle.

Disadvantages: Danger from motor vehicles and accidents outdoors (always wear a helmet), can be expensive.

-Swimming - Advantages: Smooth, no jarring, excellent for people with skeletal or weight-bearing problems, the horizontal position best for cardiovascular exercise because blood flows easier, uses all muscles, moderates the climate, cool in summer and warm (indoors) in winter.

Disadvantages: Not always convenient, most don't swim well enough to get sustained workout, possible infections associated with water.

-Rowing - Advantages: When done on rowing machine, it is smooth and quiet and can be combined with watching television, listening to tapes or other activity.

Disadvantages: Cost of equipment, possible back injuries if done incorrectly, boredom.

-Jumping rope - Advantages: Ideal for children and family, convenient, inexpensive, quickly elevates heart rate.

Disadvantages: A lot of force and pounding on legs.

-Aerobic dance - Advantages: Allows creative expression, easily done at home or with support group of friends, easy to learn, variety of music and steps minimizes boredom.

Disadvantages: Some may be too inhibited to participate, jumping may be uncomfortable to those overweight.

-Cross-country skiing - Indoor training on machine can prepare for the outdoor activity in winter, uses most muscles in upper and lower body, fun.

Disadvantages: Cost of equipment, indoor machine hard to use, danger from cold and avalanches outdoors.

STRENGTHEN MUSCLES

Total fitness not only includes aerobic endurance and flexibility, but also muscle strength, according to Dr. A. Garth Fisher.

"A person should spend a few minutes several times a week lifting weights or doing calisthenics," Fisher said. "Everybody needs strength to handle daily activities and emergencies. One study showed that many people over 70 years old couldn't lift 10 pounds. Many cannot get out of a chair without using their arms, because their leg muscles are so weak. Muscle strength is essential for a person to be active and healthy."

Fisher said strength exercises should be done for all of the major muscle groups of the body. He explained that the basic guideline for gaining strength is called the "overload principle."

To make muscles stronger, you have to lift 60 to 70 percent of your maximum lifting capacity. Once muscles get stronger, increased weight could be lifted to continue to gain strength. That is the principle of "progressive resistance," pointed out Fisher.

As with aerobic conditioning, Fisher suggested that strength training be approached with caution and moderation.

"It is a good idea for anyone who wants to start a lifting program to check with his or her physician. Lifting heavy weights can be dangerous. One study showed very high blood pressure responses in athletes who were doing maximum lifts. This could be dangerous for people who have arterial blockage or weakened blood vessel walls. Always begin with moderate weight and work up slowly."

Fisher said that calisthenics are a good supplement or even substitute to weight training.

HOW DO YOU RATE

-To determine your target training heart rate for an aerobic workout, first subtract your age from 220. If you are 40, for example, 220 minus your age is 180. Then multiply this number by 60 to 85 percent and use that as your "training zone."

A good workout in this example would have your heart beating at 126 beats per minute, 70 percent of 180.

Check your heart rate regularly while exercising by taking your pulse for 15 seconds, then multiply this number by four to get your heart rate per minute.

During the initial stages, work at the low end of the zone, and increase the rate as you become more fit.

BE FLEXIBLE

An oft-neglected aspect of exercise is proper stretching, according to Dr. Fisher. Flexibility reduces the risk of muscle pulls and tears and allows the body to function smoothly. Muscles particularly apt to be strained include hamstrings, calves, and those in the lower back and groin.

Experts debate the merits of stretching before exercise, but all agree it is wise to stretch immediately afterward when blood flow to the muscles has increased.

"Flexibility is a matter of stretching a muscle for 20 to 30 seconds without bouncing," Fisher explained. Legs can be stretched by bending forward while standing or sitting and reaching for the ankles or toes. Do one leg at a time, reaching farther down the leg with each stretch. You can lean against a wall or other stationary object with your legs angled behind to stretch calf muscles.

Stretch groin muscles by sitting on ground with bottoms of feet pulled together and exert pressure outward on knees. Hold, relax and repeat.

To stretch your lower back, lie on your back and gently bring your feet back over your head in "bicycle" position. Bring your feet as far back over your head as you comfortably can. Hold, relax and repeat.