Physical fitness gives you more choices in life. It allows you to enjoy yourself in a wider variety of activities and to perform better in all of them. It improves the diving experience by making it easier to deal with heavy gear, potentially difficult entries or exits, unexpected currents, and the occasional need to assist a fellow diver. If you have the fitness to rise to these demands when they occur, you’ll be safer as well as feeling happier and more confident.
By Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW
This article is excerpted from the book, “Why We Overeat and How to Stop.”
How Much Exercise Should You Do?
The CDC recommends 150 minutes per week of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” like brisk walking, along with two sessions of strength training that involves all of the major muscle groups.
You could get the aerobic part done by doing five half-hour sessions over the course of a week, but you can arrange it any other way that you like as long as you make sure you get at least ten continuous minutes of activity each time you exercise. The two strength workouts will probably take an additional hour or two of time weekly, depending on how comprehensive a workout you choose.
The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) is an additional source of information to consider, as it tracks the behavior of thousands of people who have maintained a minimum weight loss of 30 pounds for a year or more. Most NWCR members exercise for an average of one hour per day—a bit more than the CDC recommendation—reflecting the fact that many have lost so much weight that they now live with metabolic changes dating back to their days of obesity. This means they now need to exercise more than they otherwise would have in order to maintain a given weight.
Combining the CDC recommendations and the NWCR research, it appears that the average person will find the ideal level of exercise somewhere in the range of four to seven hours per week, or an average of 35 to 60 minutes per day, depending on individual need. As it happens, this tracks well with what I have observed for years among the healthiest people I know.
Where you fit relative to the ranges above will be a function of many factors unique to you as an individual. It will be up to you to experiment until you learn what it takes to feel the way you want to feel and to maximize your ability to do the things in life that matter to you. It’s a good idea to consult with your doctor to assure that everything you’re doing—especially if you’re new to this whole fitness thing—is sensible and safe.
Take Advantage of Your Ability to Choose
We’ve spent the past century busily engineering the physical activity out of our lives, eliminating many physical tasks that were burdensome, dangerous, or simply boring. However, we actually eliminated more activity than we could afford to lose and now, very few of us move enough to protect and maintain our health.
While we created the unintended consequence of overly sedentary living, we also created an unprecedented opportunity. We now have the freedom to choose what we do in order to maintain the level of physical activity that we need.
While many of our forebears had no choice but to engage in tiring and difficult manual labor for most of their lives, we can get the exercise we need by doing things like walking in a park, playing sports, or dancing if we want to. The next time you’re feeling grumpy about exercising, it might help to remind yourself of how fortunate you are to have choices like these.
And don’t worry that you have to join a fitness club if you don’t want to. The only people who really need fitness clubs are those who lack practical access to other alternatives or who have medical issues that require the use of specialized facilities. Some people prefer clubs because they like having a wide variety of exercise options in one location, as well as the availability of on-site personal coaching and group classes. If that’s not the case for you, however, it’s easy, far cheaper, and more convenient to work out on your own.
Strength training can be accomplished in many ways, beginning with those that cost nothing at all. Bodyweight exercises, for example—like push-ups, squats, and triceps dips—use your own weight as the source of resistance that develops your muscles. There are dozens of bodyweight exercises to choose from, which you can easily research online.
Many additional exercises can be performed with simple hand weights, resistance bands, or low-cost suspension trainers. If you go with hand weights, you might find that you can get by with just a few pairs of the specific weights that you need rather than investing in a full set. If so, you could buy all the weights you’ll ever need for the rest of your life for less than $100. If you prefer to do your strength workouts on a machine, many such machines are available for home use.
Strength training is safer, more effective, and more enjoyable if you do it correctly. Proper form is very important because it ensures the correct use of the muscles while minimizing the risk of injury. The easiest way to learn proper form is by watching someone who has it, and who can teach you. This could easily be a fitness-oriented friend but since few of us have those, the next most obvious choice is an accredited personal trainer (look for ACSM, NETA, or AFAA certifications). For as little as $400-$500, you can get all the information you need to keep working out effectively on your own for a lifetime.
Fortunately, we all have more free access to personal trainers than ever before, via Internet videos. As long as you ensure that you use videos only from industry professionals, you can get very detailed and helpful instruction on every exercise you can imagine.
Strength training can be about more than conditioning your muscles, however. Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates are all forms of strength training that include a meditative component while also promoting greater physical flexibility and balance. As such, each offers significant benefits in terms of stress management and relaxation, in addition to fitness. Your best bet, if you have the option, is to get your initial instruction from a trainer with certification specific to the form of movement you have chosen. This will give you a stronger base of general understanding and technique for going on to work independently with DVDs, books, or other resources if you’d like.
Aerobic Training Indoors
There are many indoor options for aerobic exercise, some of the more popular choices including treadmills, stair mills, rowing machines, ellipticals, and a variety of stationary bikes. Note that most machines built for aerobic exercise are more complex than those built for strength training. As such, they are more likely to require occasional maintenance or repair.
No worries if an aerobic machine does not fit well in your life because you have many other ways to get aerobic activity indoors as well: exercise DVDs, interactive games you can play on your TV, and workouts that are streamed online. Or you can skip all of that and just dance energetically to your favorite music.
Aerobic Training Outdoors
Outdoor activity is wonderfully rejuvenating. It gives you a change of scenery, some fresh air, at least the possibility of sunlight, and some options that are refreshingly different from those activities that you do indoors. Many outdoor activities exist, but walking, jogging, and bicycling are by far the most popular.
Walking can probably be done for free with shoes that you already own. If you want to step it up and do some jogging, it might improve your comfort to buy some shoes that have been designed for it. If you notice any pain while walking or jogging, don’t ignore it—there might be a problem with your technique or with the fit of your shoes that could eventually result in injury. You can get a consultation on both at many sporting goods stores, often at no charge.
Bicycling is a fun and invigorating option, provided you have somewhere to do it safely. Many people already have a long-neglected bike stuffed away in a corner somewhere, or know someone who does. If you’re one of them, this is another way to get started for free or at worst, for a few dollars spent toward whatever maintenance might be necessary to ensure that the bike is fully functional and safe.
If you’re cautiously interested in bicycling but don’t own one and aren’t sure whether you want to make the investment, you might be able to rent one at a nearby park or bike trail. Whether you rent or buy, make sure the seat is adjusted properly for the length of your legs. Casual riders often ride with the seat too low, which puts unnecessary stress on their knees and results in a less enjoyable ride. Any experienced cyclist or bike shop technician can show you the proper adjustment in just a minute or two.
Spend Your Equipment Money Wisely
Regardless of which exercise machine(s) might interest you, it’s a good idea to do a trial run on something similar at a store or fitness center first, to assure that you like it enough to invest in one of your own. Once you’ve done that, you’ll get the best value by watching the market for used equipment. If you don’t see any ads for the equipment you seek, it’s always worth placing a “wanted” ad of your own; you never know who might see it and pounce on the opportunity to trade a neglected machine for cash.
Getting good, used equipment cheap is far better than getting new equipment that is inexpensive because it is cheaply made. Bargain equipment tends to have poor ergonomics and construction, making it uncomfortable to use and even potentially unsafe. Such equipment is also prone to premature breakdown, so the money you save up front might end up being wasted altogether.
And besides, every dollar you save through cagey buying will be more money left over for scuba goodies!