Weekly Wellness: A Love Affair with Fitness

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COLUMBIA - In a 2002 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that lack of fitness is a better predictor of death among men than all other established heart disease risk factors, but unlike age, race, and genetics, you can modify this easily with exercise.

Getting regular exercise helps you cut your odds of getting heart disease. It's good for your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, energy level, mood, among other benefits.

If you're not exercising, check in with your doctor first. Once you get the okay to get started, start slowly. Begin with walking easily or using a stationary bike. Begin with 15 or 20 minute sessions a few times a week.

You can slowly work up to at least 2 1/2 hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) every week or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., jogging, running) or a combination of both every week.

A general rule of thumb for gauging your aerobic exercise intensity is to get your heart rate (HR) into your target zone. The simplest method of determining your target heart rate is subtracting your age from 220, which gives you your estimated maximum heart rate. You need to raise your heart rate between approximately 60 and 85 percent of this number. For example, if you are 35, your approximate maximum heart rate would be 185. Your goal would be to keep your pulse between 111 and 157. Staying on the lower end of this range would be more conducive to calorie burning and overall health improvement. Working out on the higher end would result in a more rapid fitness improvement and the ability to perform at an extremely high level.

Any activity that keeps your HR in this target range for a minimum of 20 minutes at least four times a week will increase your cardiovascular capacity. Remember, to get the maximum benefit you must work hard enough to keep your HR in the target range.

The American Heart Association recommends that you exercise most days of the week. While the more exercise you can do the better, any amount is good for you.