Both Kevin and I have noticed that our readers seem to have less interest in fitness than in other topics, like diet. But this puzzles us because fitness is just as important for health as nutrition is, and our readers are interested in natural health.
I think it’s because fitness has been turned into some sort of “elite” pursuit that appeals only to certain people. If I talk about running marathons, only marathon runners or wannabes will read my articles. If I talk about lifting weights, I’ll turn off the people who don’t lift weights.
So I’ve decided to continue my series of articles, summarizing my findings in particular topics; I’ll share with you the most important things I have learned about fitness over the years.
Here we go . . .
1- You can’t do everything at once
Want to get fit? Don’t look for a plan that will give you “overall fitness.” Fitness training is always very specific. Focus on one goal at a time. For example: losing body fat, increasing cardiovascular endurance, improving muscle tone, building muscle, or developing weak areas.
Always start with a goal in mind. Then focus on that goal for a few months with specific exercises. After that, you can choose a different goal. Over time you will achieve a state of “overall fitness.” But it’s difficult to be a marathon runner and weight lifter at the same time if you want to get great results doing both.
2- Remember the acronym FIT
How often do you exercise? How intense is the exercise? How long is the exercise?
You also want to improve these aspects in that order. Start by exercising more regularly. Then exercise with more intensity, but keep your sessions short. Only extremely fit people can exercise often, with high-intensity, and for longer periods of time. For most people that won’t happen.
As you increase the intensity, shorten the frequency and length of your workouts. You might work out intensely two or three times a week, but not every day. The same goes for the other elements. If you make your workouts really long, reduce the intensity and frequency.
3- Start with 20 minutes a day
If you don’t already exercise regularly, you’ll be happy to hear this. Science has discovered that almost all the health benefits of exercise come from the first minutes. According to Gretchen Reynolds, author of the book The First 20 Minutes, “The health benefits of activity follow, in fact, a breathtakingly steep curve at first.” “Almost all of the mortality reductions are due to the first twenty minutes of exercise,” says Frank Booth, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri and often-cited expert on exercise and health. “There’s a huge drop in mortality rates among people who haven’t been doing any activity and then begin doing some, even if the amount of exercise is quite small.”
Then why do people exercise for more than 20 minutes? The first 20 minutes will provide the most benefits for overall health, including disease prevention. But additional exercise will develop your overall fitness, which has other advantages.
4- The best exercise for you is the one you’re willing to do
When it comes to exercise, I’m pretty boring. I like two things: lifting weights and running. I just don’t see myself learning tennis or another sport. I like hiking, too, but that’s about it.
These are the exercises that give me the most rewards; I enjoyed the process of trying different things and discovering what I love doing the most. Some people try cycling and fall in love with it. So the best exercise for you is the one you’re willing to do!
5- You can exercise in any chunk of time, as long as it’s for 150 minutes a week
You can keep the 20 minutes a day rule, or the 150 minutes a week rule (which averages out to about 20 minutes a day). But you can also break down the weekly requirement in any chunks you like. You could exercise for 20 minutes every day or for 50 minutes three times a week. It’s entirely up to you. Research has shown that the benefits for health are the same.
6- Remember these words: stress and recovery
You can basically summarize the entire science of fitness in two words: stress and recovery. The “stress” is the exercise itself, which must put stress on the body for the neurological systems to react and improve functions through adaptation. Strength training causes stress by tearing down small muscle fibers, which will later be repaired and actually increase in size.
The “recovery” is the time between workouts and includes your nutrition as well. You must feed your body enough nutrients to recover and in the right quantities. That generally means eating when hungry.
If you’re not progressing with exercise, the problem is with one of these two factors: 1) Your exercise is not intense enough or you keep doing the same thing and your body has already adapted (not enough stress) or 2) You don’t take the time to recover properly.
6- Unless you are a serious athlete, forget the nutrition formulas
If you start spending time with fitness trainers, you’ll learn all kinds of formulas; for example, how many carbohydrates you should eat during a run, or how soon you should eat after an exercise session.
For endurance activities (running, cycling, etc.), none of that information matters if you’re just exercising moderately for less than 90 minutes. You don’t need to worry about sports or recovery drinks and so on. But if you’ll be working out for at least two hours, or if you’re training for a marathon, then you will need to take in more fuel and also consume more carbohydrates during your exercise sessions.
7- How to tell if you’re fit to live
According to research from The Cooper Institute, if you’re a man in your 40s and you can run an 8-minute mile, you’re in the highest fitness category. If you’re 30 or younger, running a 7-minute mile will place you in the same fitness category. For women in their 40s, running a 9-minute mile also shows they are quite fit. Middle-aged men who can’t run a 10-minute mile (a 12-minute mile for women) have the highest risk of heart disease later in life. So get out there and see how fast you can run that mile! For my Canadian and international readers, that’s about 1.6 kilometers.
Question of the day: Are you interested in fitness and do you want to learn more about it?