July 22nd, 2009
Experts weigh in on eight benchmarks that are critical to conquer for healthy living.
When 58-year-old Larry Durstine was younger, he could run four miles in 20 minutes–an impressive pace given that only elite runners tend to average sub-four-minute miles. But these days Durstine, who knows a thing or two about fitness since he’s chair of the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, has different goals.
“I used to get five to 10 miles in an hour each day, but my benchmarks have changed,” Durstine says. Nowadays, however, he’s satisfied to squeeze in whatever exercise, whenever he can.
It’s practical, and might even sound boring, but Durstine enjoys the challenge of finding ways to be active, whether that means waking up at 5:30 a.m. to run 2 miles, parking his car a mile from his campus office for the long walks or planning a 20-minute session of 300 sit-ups and 120 push-ups.
Regular activities like these, plus frequent flexibility and coordination exercises, help the body become limber and strong, as well as capable of speed and cardiovascular endurance. Trends may come and go, but the foundation of good physical health rests on these principles. And working toward each of the goals–flexibility, coordination, strength, speed and endurance–is possible with a little time management, creative thinking and education.
Getting It Done Exercise science hasn’t changed much in recent decades; experts still say people need to be moderately to vigorously active and develop strength and flexibility. Ideally, you should spend at least 30 minutes a day, five days out of the week on cardiovascular conditioning. Additional time, about 20 minutes, should be allotted for strength-training exercises twice a week. Finally, flexibility exercises can be done in eight to 10 minutes three times a week.
For most people, that’s an ambitious workout schedule. That’s why Durstine recommends a balance between planned exercise, like that 5:30 a.m. run, and more improvisational exercise, like taking a mid-afternoon break to do a few coordination or flexibility activities–like balancing on one foot or stretching the major muscle groups.
It also shouldn’t be a burden when you’re having fun, which is how Nick Heil approaches exercise. Heil, an editor for Outside who tests fitness plans in a monthly column, admits, “workouts can be like going to the dentist.” But he often exercises with other people, which allows him to focus on enjoying the “social energy” instead of dwelling on the work.
Maximizing the Benefits Another of Heil’s hard-won lessons has been learning how to exercise more efficiently, which is key to incorporating the various fundamentals into a fitness regimen.
When improving speed and cardiovascular endurance, for example, it’s important to use your heart rate as a baseline for goal setting. A general rule of thumb is to subtract your age from the number 210. Fifty percent of this amount is the maximum heart rate for fat burning, while 70% to 85% of that amount is ideal for cardiovascular fitness.
Becoming more efficient, Heil says, also means understanding which exercises are most beneficial for you. Someone who enjoys playing pickup basketball or bike racing, for example, should do exercises that emphasize dynamic movement and flexibility. Targeting the right activities at the right pace will help you make time for activities you might normally omit, like flexibility exercises or strength training.
That may seem obvious, but few people are able to pinpoint which workouts are best for them. That’s why Dr. Anthony Luke, director of primary care sports medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, recommends that athletes at every level consult online guidelines from reputable sources like the American College of Sports Medicine (with which Luke is affiliated) or consult a professional trainer.
Heil seconds the importance of research and personalized planning when trying to build a foundation for long-term fitness.
“You have to put all these pieces together in the right way,” Heil says. “It’s like personal finance–you can’t just spend and cross your fingers and hope for the best.”
By Rebecca Ruiz