Exercise helps keep your body healthy and your tissues and organs working properly. By keeping your body in good working order, exercise also helps ward off many diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and many others.
In 2008, the United States Department of Health and Human Services released physical activity guidelines for Americans. They recommend that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate–intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous–intensity aerobic (cardiovascular) physical activity per week. For additional health benefits, they recommend that adults increase this amount to 300 minutes of moderate–intensity or 150 minutes a week of vigorous–intensity aerobic activity per week.
Your exercise program should include:
Aerobic (Cardiovascular) Exercise
In aerobic exercise, you continually move large muscles in the legs and buttocks. This action causes you to breathe more deeply and your heart to work harder to pump blood, thereby strengthening your heart and lungs.
Strength Training (Resistance) Exercise
Strength training builds lean muscle mass, which increases your physical strength and your bone mass.
- Weight lifting, using:
- Free weights
- Weight machines
- Elastic tubing
- Calisthenics, such as push ups or chin ups
Flexibility (Stretching) Exercise
Stretching can offer many benefits, such as improving:
- Range of motion
Major muscle groups to stretch include:
- Back muscles
- Neck muscles
- Leg muscles: hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles
- Chest muscles
- Buttocks and hip muscles
- Shoulder and arm muscles
- Stomach muscles
Stretching classes include:
Here are some tips for safe stretching:
- Spend at least 5-10 minutes warming up your muscles before stretching. For example, walking gently while swinging your arms in wide circles.
- Start each stretch slowly, exhaling as you gently stretch the muscle.
- Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds.
Here are some common stretching mistakes to avoid:
- Do not bounce during a stretch.
- Do not stretch a muscle that is not warmed up.
- If a stretch hurts, ease up. Do not strain or push a muscle too far.
- Do not hold your breath while stretching.
Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor about any possible medical problems you may have that would limit your exercise program.
Consider making an appointment with a certified athletic trainer to help you develop a safe, effective, and enjoyable exercise program. You can find a trainer at a local gym or through a referral from your doctor or a friend. Make sure this person understands your goals and can help you maintain an exercise program that you will enjoy and stick with.
American Council on Exercise
Weight-control Information Network
Canada Safety Council
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Exercise: how to get started. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Dec 15;74(12):2095-2096. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20061215/2095ph.html. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 2/17/2014