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Question: Last week, I began to answer the question of how to train the lungs so as not to feel breathless. I pointed out that the amount of air we breathe is related very closely to the intensity of exercise. As we work harder, the volume of air we move in and out of the lungs increases in a fairly linear fashion until we reach a point about 50 percent to 80 percent of our maximum capacity. At this point, called the "anaerobic threshold," we begin to hyperventilate - and it is hyperventilation that makes us feel breathless.

If you are not very fit, you probably also have a low anaerobic threshold and may get breathless just walking with someone who walks faster than your normal pace. If you begin an aerobic conditioning program, not only do you increase the total amount of energy you can produce, you also raise the anaerobic threshold, which increases your exercise capacity dramatically.The "rules" for developing aerobic fitness are fairly known. I will review them for you below:

1. Select an exercise that uses the large muscle groups of the hips and legs in a rhythmic, continuous action. This type of activity increases the amount of blood pumped by the heart, which increases its ability to pump, and changes the muscles so that they can produce and use energy more efficiently.

Examples of aerobic activities are: walking, jogging, swimming, cycling (indoor or out), rowing and stair-stepping.

2. Work at a moderate intensity. There are two ways to determine if your intensity is too high. First, use the breath test. If you feel so breathless that you cannot carry on a conversation, you are working above the anaerobic threshold and you should slow down.

Another way to determine intensity is to check your heart rate. Moderate work will cause your heart rate to rise between 70 percent and 85 percent of maximum. Maximum heart rate is usually equal to 220 minus age. Again, if you choose a heart rate that is too high for your level of fitness, you will begin to feel breathless (above the anaerobic threshold) and you will not be able to continue doing this exercise for very long.

Be sure that you work at a moderate rate until your level of fitness increases.

3. Exercise for sufficient time to cause a training effect. If you are not used to exercise, begin with only five or 10 minutes for each exercise bout. Then, increase slowly each week until you have reached a duration between 20 and 60 minutes that you can work into your schedule on a regular basis.

Exercising too long during the initial stages almost always causes injury.

4. Do your exercise three to five times a week. Usually every other day is sufficient to cause fitness changes to occur, but many people enjoy going daily.

5. Remember to start slowly and progress slowly until your body has a chance to make physiological changes. If you are older or have some chronic disease, clear exercise with your physician before beginning a program. Also, check with your physician if you experience chest pain or other unusual symptoms.