I often get asked why I like exercise. It seems not everyone shares my enthusiasm for movement. The question arose again recently so I decided to address it here. There are many so I will stick to my top five.
One of the biggest benefits is stress management. I sometimes have a very difficult day where I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and sometimes even incompetent. I get tired, develop a headache and just want to bury my head in the sand. Instead, I exercise. An hour of movement, getting my heart rate up, strengthening my muscles, sweating the aggravation out, then stretching out and settling my mind not only makes me feel alive, it makes me feel like I can handle all of the things that seemed so daunting before. One of my favorite workouts to do when I am really stressed is kickboxing with a bag followed with tai chi/yoga. No harm, no foul and I can sleep at night which also helps manage stress.
It helps me breathe. I have asthma and a very fine appreciation for the ability to just breathe. An asthma attack (or any form of breathing limitation) is not fun. As a kid, it was both annoying, embarrassing and scary. As an adult, I understand it better and realize there are things I can do to help myself. One of them is regular cardiovascular exercise.
It helps me socially. I love group fitness and I love to play. It doesn’t matter if we are the same age, sex, social class, ability level, etc. for one hour we are all in it together.
Exercise helps me settle my mind and organize my thoughts. My mind seems to go too many directions at once and I have a difficult time accomplishing anything because I am too scattered. I tend to do a little bit of a lot of things but not get any one thing done. With regular exercise I am able to focus on tasks, prioritize, and get things done. (I think it has much to do with the first benefit I mentioned).
I physically benefit from exercise and I enjoy that. One of the purposes of regular exercise is to make our daily activities easier. I am grateful that I can take the simple act of walking for granted. There are many who cannot. I feel the ability to move freely and painlessly is a huge gift and I am incredibly grateful to have it.
These five benefits are just the tip of the iceberg for what exercise can do for one. I just mentioned the ones that come to mind because I experience them on a daily basis. Exercise can be used as a tool for good health in many ways and coupled with good nutrition can be the difference between living life and just existing.
In the past month, I have read 4 magazine articles and numerous internet posts stating that “Cardio” is bad for you. I have also read more than a few that state cardio training makes you fat and eats up your muscle. The common factor in each of these articles was that they recommend high intensity interval training “HIIT” and/or strength training as the best method for staying slim and in shape.
I dislike marketing that runs down one item in order to make another item look better. This is basically what is happening in these articles. A well structured program will include some steady state work, some intensity, strength, balance, and flexibility training. If you do nothing but HIIT training, you increase your chances of injury and many people just don’t want to work that hard everyday. Doing only strength training will make your skeletal muscles stronger but does not develop the same improvements to your cardiovascular system as cardio training will.
The “muscle wasting” caused by cardiovascular training is simply atrophy of unused muscles. Many marathon runners do not bother to lift weights or train their upper body. Bicyclists often do the same. I do not ever see a serious runner or cyclist that has fat legs. The reason is the leg muscles are utilized, therefore they receive the most metabolic benefits.
Your heart is a muscle and so are the arteries and veins. In order to keep them in good working order, they need to be challenged like any other muscle. Not to the breaking point of course, but enough that what once seemed difficult is no longer hard. Ideally a combination of steady state training, HIIT, strength, flexibility, and balance training will help you to live the life you choose and allow a better quality of life.
The bottom line is that each of these modes of exercise have their place. I will not stop running, biking, hiking, etc. because the latest magazine states that it is not a good enough form of exercise. These are things that I love to do and they improve my overall physical fitness level. Exercise should be a part of daily life and it you force yourself to do something you don’t like, odds are you won’t be doing it for the long haul.
If you have asthma, you can probably relate to the frustration of not being able to breath! Not only is it scary but it is just plain aggravating when you have something as simple as a little run around the room with your kids trigger an attack. I was diagnosed with asthma as a small child so I have personal experience. One of the very best things I have done to help myself in this area is to exercise. Particularly cardiovascular exercise and yoga.
My experience with asthma and exercise is probably similar to many other individuals. I am fortunate enough that if I keep my allergies under control, I have much better control of asthma. I may have to use my inhaler before I workout, but not very often. I do have to be very careful to do a good warm up and cool down. If I jump right into a workout, especially a high intensity one, I can pretty much be assured I will have an attack and have to stop. If I take the time to gradually get myself going, I am just fine. I have had to learn that if I go to a class, I have to adjust my workout for me. If I try to go all out right away, it just doesn’t work. It is more than a little embarrassing when you are gasping for air 2 minutes into class. I watch my peak flows and pay attention to how my body feels. Fatigue is often one of the first signs I have that my oxygen saturation levels are dropping. Everyone is different but it is important to pay attention to how your body feels.
I love many forms of cardiovascular exercise. Among my favorites are running, biking, hiking, aerobics, kickboxing, and dance. This type of exercise has allowed me to increase my endurance, my strength and my overall health. The ability to do all of these things in spite of being asthmatic is quite freeing.
Yoga has been a wonderful way for me to learn to focus on breathing and learning to utilize my respiratory muscles. There are many other benefits to yoga, but for someone with asthma, I feel learning to work with the breath is one of the most valuable benefits.
Below are the guidelines suggested by the American College of Sports Medicine for exercising with asthma. I have added my 2 cents worth in italics.
• Talk with your health care provider before starting an exercise program and ask for specific programming recommendations and possible changes to your medications.
• Take all medications as recommended by your physician.
• Schedule your exercise session at a time when you’re least likely to experience an attack, such as mid- to late-morning.
• An extended warm-up and a gradual cool-down may help reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms.
• Realize that it might take up to six weeks to get used to your routine and figure out what works best for you.
• Be prepared to adjust your workouts according to changes in weather and fluctuations in your symptoms.
• Start slowly and gradually progress the intensity and duration of your workouts.
• Take frequent breaks during activity if needed.
• Avoid extremes in temperature and humidity. Try to exercise in a controlled environment such as an indoor home or gym with air conditioning.
• Walking and jogging, particularly in warm, dry climates, may produce more asthma symptoms. The same is true for cold-weather, high-intensity activities.
• If exercise aggravates your symptoms, immediately stop all activity and contact your health care provider as you may need more intensive medical management for your asthma.
• Limit your activity on days when pollen counts are high. Again, exercising indoors with the windows closed.
• Do not be concerned if you are unable to reach the higher end of your target heart rate range—you will still experience significant benefits from physical activity. If you have to use your inhaler, your heart rate may be faster than normal.
Your exercise program should be designed to maximize the benefits with the fewest risks of aggravating your health or physical condition. Consider contacting a certified health and fitness professional* who can work with you and your health care provider to establish realistic goals and design a safe and effective program that addresses your specific needs.
*If your health care provider has not cleared you for independent physical activity and would like you to be monitored in a hospital setting or a medical fitness facility, you should exercise only under the supervision of a certified professional. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has two groups of certified fitness professionals that could meet your needs. The ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) is certified to support those with heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. The ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) is qualified to support patients with a wide range of health challenges. You may locate all ACSM-certified fitness professionals by using the ProFinder at http://www.acsm.org
There are several methods of measuring intensity during a workout. Three common methods used are heart rate, rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and the talk test. These methods may be used alone or in combination.
You can determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. To determine a training zone, multiply that number by a lower percentage and again by a higher percentage. For example: I am 47 years old and I would like to train between 65% and 85% of my maximum heart rate. I would calculate my training zone as follows. Maximum heart rate: 220-47=173 bpm
Lower training level: 173 x 0.65=112 bpm
Upper training level: 173 x 0.85=147 bpm
I would therefore attempt to keep my heart rate between 112 bpm and 147 bpm during my workout. It will of course be lower during the warm up and cool down.
Heart rate training is just an estimate. It is a good place to start and track changes over time. In other words, when you begin exercising you may find that your heart rate goes up quickly and comes down slowly. After training for a month, your heart rate may go up more slowly and come down quickly when doing the same program. This indicates that the same amount of work is easier for you to do and the heart has become more efficient at handling that workload. Many medications and stimulants will affect heart rate.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE):
This is simply a scale which an individual uses to determine how hard he/she is working. It is also called the Borg scale and is usually rated between 1 and 10 or 6 and 20 depending upon which scale is used.
The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level. Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like your body is working. It is based on the physical sensations a person experiences during physical activity, including increased heart rate, increased respiration or breathing rate, increased sweating, and muscle fatigue. Although this is a subjective measure, a person’s exertion rating may provide a fairly good estimate of the actual heart rate during physical activity* (Borg, 1998).
Instructions for Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale
While doing physical activity, we want you to rate your perception of exertion. This feeling should reflect how heavy and strenuous the exercise feels to you, combining all sensations and feelings of physical stress, effort, and fatigue. Do not concern yourself with any one factor such as leg pain or shortness of breath, but try to focus on your total feeling of exertion.
Look at the rating scale below while you are engaging in an activity; it ranges from 6 to 20, where 6 means “no exertion at all” and 20 means “maximal exertion.” Choose the number from below that best describes your level of exertion. This will give you a good idea of the intensity level of your activity, and you can use this information to speed up or slow down your movements to reach your desired range.
Try to appraise your feeling of exertion as honestly as possible, without thinking about what the actual physical load is. Your own feeling of effort and exertion is important, not how it compares to other people’s. Look at the scales and the expressions and then give a number.
6 No exertion at all
7 Extremely light (7.5) 8
9 Very light
13 Somewhat hard
15 Hard (heavy)
17 Very hard
19 Extremely hard
20 Maximal exertion
9 corresponds to “very light” exercise. For a healthy person, it is like walking slowly at his or her own pace for some minutes
13 on the scale is “somewhat hard” exercise, but it still feels OK to continue.
17 “very hard” is very strenuous. A healthy person can still go on, but he or she really has to push him- or herself. It feels very heavy, and the person is very tired.
19 on the scale is an extremely strenuous exercise level. For most people this is the most strenuous exercise they have ever experienced.
Borg RPE scale © Gunnar Borg, 1970, 1985, 1994, 1998
The talk test is a simple way to measure relative intensity. As a rule of thumb, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. If you cannot talk, you are working at a high intensity which you can sustain for very brief periods.
Cardio kickboxing class is a fun way to get a great full body workout. Cardio kickboxing can be a high intensity class without being high impact. It is definitely a program where you get out of it what you put into it. The Cardio Kickboxing classes that I teach in Columbus, WI are no contact, meaning that we do not hit each other but we may occassionaly hit and kick x-ray paper, hand pads, or body shields.
Cardio kickboxing class is different from martial arts training because the goal is very different. Cardio kickboxing is training for cardiovascular health. The goal is to get the heart rate up by repetitively working large muscle groups. Secondary goals include improving strength, balance and boosting metabolism. We do utilize moves from various forms of martial arts primarily Tae Kwon Do, however, we are not teaching martial arts in this class. You do not need to have a martial arts background to enjoy the benefits of Cardio Kickboxing. The majority of my students have no martial background whatsoever.
A typical class will include a warm up, 30-45 minutes of cardio, 10-15 minutes of toning and conditioning, and a cool down with a stretch.
There are four main kicks that we use in cardio kickboxing. They include a front snap kick, back kick, side kick, and a roundhouse kick. There are also four main punches which include jab, cross punch, hook, and uppercut. These can be used in various combinations to keep class interesting. They will also be combined with basic fitness exercises such as squats, lunges, jumping jacks, etc. Again, the goal is to get the heart rate up. There are modifications for each exercise to make it easier or harder depending on your personal fitness level and goals.
Common benefits of Cardio Kickboxing are improved cardiovascular health, improved strength, balance, endurance, and reduced body fat. Many students see reductions in waist and hip circumference, large gains in core strength, and a toned upper body.
Heat causes more deaths than all other weather issues combined. Summer in Wisconsin is beautiful. Temperatures and humidity are often lower than other parts of the country, however, we do have days that are rather intense. Many of us enjoy the heat and exercising outdoors in the summer. Exercising when it is hot is challenging due to a large number of physiological factors including a rise in core temperature and a higher possibility of dehydration. Exercising increases heat production and evaporation of sweat helps to cool our bodies. If the humidity is too high evaporation is reduced putting one at an increased risk for heat illness. There are some things you can do to reduce your risk of heat related injury. If the heat index is high, exercise early in the morning or in an air conditioned environment. If you are running or biking, go out with the wind at your back and come back into the wind in order to allow the wind to help cool your body when your temperature is highest. Wear as little clothing as possible made of a light wicking fabric. Prevent dehydration by hydrating in the hours before you go out. During exercise drink fluids every 15 minutes. Cold liquids are better absorbed and help cool the body best. Continue fluids after exercise as well. Recovery is important in maintaining performance.
Exercise intensity in the heat may be reduced. Bear that in mind when you are planning your workouts. Gradually acclimatize yourself to the heat. It will take a couple of weeks of exercising in the heat for your body to adjust. You will be able to pick up the intensity as you adapt to the heat.
Listen to your body and use common sense. If you are pushing yourself to the point of being sick or passing out, that does not mean you are getting a great workout, it means your body is being abused.
There seem to be an awful lot of people giving nutritional advice these days. In the past couple of weeks, I personally have come across trainers and supplement sales people offering up advice that was just incorrect. None of these people had any nutritional background or training yet they were freely dispensing advice. If you are looking for help in this area there are a couple of websites you can visit that give general and free information. The government site www.choosemyplate.gov/supertracker-tools.html is a free site where you can enter both your food intake and your physical activity to see areas in which you may need to make adjustmens. Another site for help with diabetes is
http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/?loc=DropDownFF-whatcanieat Again both of these sites give general information. Your nutritional needs are based on several factors such as age, size, gender, health, activity level, medications, etc. Educating yourself is important and if you feel you need help, make sure the person you are speaking with has the proper training to help you. What works for one person may not work for another simply because we are all different individuals.
We are currently running classes at the Columbus Fireman’s Park Pavilion, 1049 Park Ave, Columbus, WI. Tuesday and Thursday evening Kickboxing and Zumba. Drop by and try a class.
This is the most frequently asked question I get whether it be regarding cardio, strength training, improving performance or simply stretching. The answer obviously depends on what you are wanting to do and why but I can tell you for a fact that the “BEST” exercise is one you will actually do. Good intentions and brilliant plans do no good if you don’t follow through. Finding activities that you enjoy will help you to stay active over the long term. A good program will include cardiovascular training, strength, flexibility, and balance training as well as adequate amounts of sleep and sound nutrition. It is not necessary to spend hours in a gym in order to stay healthy. If you find that enjoyable, go for it, but don’t guilt yourself if it is not your thing.