FAQ – Exercise Tips

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What are the medical benefits of exercise?

Exercise has been proven to help manage and prevent disease like diabetes, heart disease, breast and colon cancer and osteoporosis. It can “lower blood pressure, alleviate uncontrolled blood sugars, reduce cholesterol, improve quality of life, and increase sex drive.4-7 Weight training, a counterpart of exercise, helps increase fat-free mass, increases resting metabolic rate, increases bone density, and decreases the risk of osteoporosis along with preventing many other chronic diseases.8” Exercise…The Key to Weight Loss Success by Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT

According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “one year of moderate physical exercise can increase the size of the brain’s hippocampus in adults aged 55 and more, leading to an improvement in spatial memory.”

In fact, “walking three times a week may improve memory in older adults and help prevent mental decline as people age. The study of adults ages 55 and older found a two percent expansion of the hippocampus, the brain’s memory processor that can shrink during middle age, in those who walked 40 minutes, three times a week, for a year.”

How does exercise boosts your energy, mood, and brainpower?

Exercise can help reduce feelings of depression, may improve mood and overall well-being, and may improve or maintain some aspects of cognitive function, such as your ability to shift quickly between tasks, plan an activity, and ignore irrelevant information.

  • Relieves stress and anxiety. A twenty-minute bike ride won’t sweep away life’s troubles, but exercising regularly helps you take charge of anxiety and reduce stress. How so? Aerobic exercise releases hormones that relieve stress and give a sense of well-being.
  • Alleviates depression. Did you know that exercise treats mild to moderate depression as effectively as anti-depression medicine? Experts believe that physical activity increases serotonin, a brain chemical that fights negative thoughts and depression.
  • Boosts mood. Exercise also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in our brain that energize our spirits and simply make us feel good.
  • Sharpens brainpower. The same endorphins that make us feel better also help us concentrate and feel mentally sharp for our tasks at hand.
  • Improves self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body and soul. When it becomes habit, it can help foster a stronger sense of self-worth since you take the time to take care of yourself.
  • Energy gain. Want less fatigue, improved sleep, and a natural shot of joi de vivre? Get moving in the fresh air. It’s true that increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, then after a while, you’ll have the energy to add a few more minutes to your routine.

What are the current American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) basic exercise recommendations?

Guidelines for healthy adults under age 65

Perform moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week


Perform vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week


Perform eight to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.

Moderate-intensity physical activity means working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still being able to carry on a conversation. It should be noted that to lose weight or maintain weight loss, 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity may be necessary. The 30-minute recommendation is for the average healthy adult to maintain health and reduce the risk for chronic disease.

Guidelines for adults over age 65 (or adults 50-64 with chronic conditions, such as arthritis)

Do moderately intense aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week


Do vigorously intense aerobic exercise 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week


Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, 10-15 repetitions of each exercise twice to three times per week


If you are at risk of falling, perform balance exercises


Have a physical activity plan.

Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity is critical for healthy aging. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise means working hard at about a level-six intensity on a scale of 10. You should still be able to carry on a conversation during exercise.

Older adults or adults with chronic conditions should develop an activity plan with a health professional to manage risks and take therapeutic needs into account. This will maximize the benefits of physical activity and ensure your safety.

Referenced from: www.acsm.org

What is the importance of obtaining a medical evaluation prior to beginning an exercise routine?

Prior to starting an exercise program always obtain a complete evaluation by your primary doctor.  This will help prevent injuries and major medical complications such as strokes and heart attacks.   Other reasons to check with your doctor before you exercise include:

  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • The feeling that your heart is skipping, racing, or fluttering
  • Blood clots or easy bruising
  • An infection or fever with muscle aches
  • Joint swelling
  • A hernia
  • Recent surgery
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Any new symptom you haven’t yet discussed

What are some different types of exercise that can be done?

One of the great things about physical activity is that there are so many ways to be active.  For example, you can be active in short spurts throughout the day, or you can set aside specific times of the day on specific days of the week to exercise. Many physical activities — such as brisk walking, raking leaves, or taking the stairs whenever you can — are free or low cost and do not require special equipment.

Endurance exercises improve the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.

“In addition, to the aerobic element, light resistance training is also encouraged to help correct posture, improve balance and coordination, build fat free mass, and increase self esteem.22Exercise…The Key to Weight Loss Success by Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT  

Stretching before exercise prepares the joints for motion, helps avoid injury and increases the range of motion of the area being stretched. After exercise stretching reduces soreness, helps to prevent muscle cramping and increases the range of motion.

What is the importance of stretching before and after exercising?

Stretching before exercise prepares the joints for motion, helps avoid injury and increases the range of motion of the area being stretched. After exercise stretching reduces soreness, helps to prevent muscle cramping and increases the range of motion.

  • Talk with your doctor if you are unsure about a particular exercise. For example, if you’ve had hip or back surgery, talk with your doctor before doing lower-body exercises.
  • Always warm up before stretching exercises. Stretch after endurance or strength exercises. If you are doing only stretching exercises, warm up with a few minutes of easy walking first. Stretching your muscles before they are warmed up may result in injury.
  • Always remember to breathe normally while holding a stretch.
  • Stretching may feel slightly uncomfortable; for example, a mild pulling feeling is normal.
  • You are stretching too far if you feel sharp or stabbing pain, or joint pain — while doing the stretch or even the next day. Reduce the stretch so that it doesn’t hurt.
  • Never “bounce” into a stretch. Make slow, steady movements instead. Jerking into position can cause muscles to tighten, possibly causing injury.
  • Avoid “locking” your joints. Straighten your arms and legs when you stretch them, but don’t hold them tightly in a straight position. Your joints should always be slightly bent while stretching.

Why is it important to have the right shoes?

Your shoes are an important part of your physical activity routine. Remember, you’re going to be wearing them a lot. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Choose shoes that are made for the type of physical activity you want to do (walking, running, dancing, bowling, tennis).
  • Look for shoes with flat, non-skid soles; good heel support; enough room for your toes; and a cushioned arch that’s not too high or too thick.
  • Make sure your shoes fit well and provide proper support for your feet. This is especially important if you have diabetes or arthritis. Shoes should feel comfortable right from the start.
  • Think of your shoes as safety equipment for your feet. Check them regularly, and replace them when they’re worn out. You can tell you need new shoes when:
    • The tread on the bottom is worn down
    • Your feet (especially your arches) feel tired after activity
    • Your shins, knees, or hips hurt after activity

Referenced from:  www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/ExerciseGuide

What is the maximum heart rate I should achieve to burn calories?

The predicted equation of 220-Age is the most common formula to predict maximum heart rate. In order to burn the stored carbohydrates as fuel, it is recommended that avid exercisers achieve a target HR of 55 to 80 percent of their maximum HR. To find out more information on appropriate zones, visit www.americanheartassociation.org.

Exercise…The Key to Weight Loss Success by Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT

How can I monitor my heart rate before, during and after working out?

Patients can also monitor their own HR by measuring their pulses. This can be done by placing their three fingers on their radial pulse (inside of the wrist) or by using their index and middle finger to monitor their carotid pulse (below the neck). They then count the beats in 10 seconds and multiply that number by 6—which will give them their beats per minute (bpm). Exercise…The Key to Weight Loss Success by Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT

How can I prevent injuries when exercising?

The health benefits of exercise far outweigh any risks of injury. However, you can take some precautions to exercise safely.

Follow these tips to avoid injury:

  • When starting an exercise program, begin slowly with low-intensity exercises.
  • Wait at least 2 hours after eating a large meal before doing strenuous exercise.
  • Wear appropriate shoes for your activity and comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that allows you to move freely but won’t catch on other objects.
  • Warm up with low-intensity exercises at the beginning of each exercise session.
  • Drink water before, during, and after your exercise session.
  • When exercising outdoors, pay attention to your surroundings — consider possible traffic hazards, the weather, uneven walking surfaces, and strangers.

Stop exercising if you:

  • Have pain or pressure in your chest, neck, shoulder, or arm
  • Feel dizzy or sick to your stomach
  • Break out in a cold sweat
  • Have muscle cramps
  • Feel severe pain in joints, feet, ankles, or legs

Referenced from:  www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/ExerciseGuide

Is there a way I can get exercise without having to spend hours at the gym?

There are many ways in which a person can get the benefits of exercise without having to spend hours at the gym.  It all hinges on seizing different opportunities like:

  • In and around your home  
    • Clean the house
    • Wash the car
    • Tend to the yard and garden.  Mow the lawn with a push mower
    • Sweep up the sidewalk or patio with a broom
    • When you unload the groceries, strengthen your arms by lifting the milk carton or a 1-pound can a few times before you put it away.
  • At work and on the go
    • Bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive
    • Banish all elevators and get to know every staircase possible
    • Park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office
    • Take a vigorous walk during your coffee break.
    • Instead of calling or e-mailing a colleague at work, go in person — and take the stairs!
  • With the family
    • Jog around the soccer field during your kid’s practice
    • Make a neighborhood bike ride part of weekend routine
    • Play tag with your children in the yard
    • Go canoeing at a lake
    • Walk the dog in a new location
  • Just for fun
    • Pick fruit at an orchard
    • Boogie to music
    • Go to the beach or take a hike
    • Gently stretch while watching television
    • Organize an office bowling team
    • Take a class in martial arts class, dance, or yoga
  • Multi-task the active way 
    • While you’re waiting in line, practice your balancing skills by standing on one foot for a few seconds, then the other. Gradually build up your time.
    • While you’re talking on the phone, stand up and do a few leg raises or toe stands to strengthen your legs.
    • Take advantage of small bits of “down time” to do an exercise or two. For example, while you’re waiting for the coffee to brew or for your spouse to get ready to go out, do a few wall push-ups or calf stretches.

How can I keep myself motivated and interested in exercising?

  • Write down your goals.
    • Be specific – vague goals leave a lot of room for noncompliance and mental loopholes that will prevent you from accomplishing your task.
    • Be realistic – setting unrealistic goals will not only demoralize you but prevent you from moving forward.  For example, when setting exercise goals write down each type of exercise you are going to perform, on which day of the week, for how long, at what intensity, etc.
  • Keep a journal
    • Keep a daily log of what you eat and the vitamins you take.
    • Keep a daily log of the types of exercise you have performed.
    • Write down the obstacles you faced and how you overcame them or what you are going to do to avoid them in the future.
    • Write down your accomplishments no matter how small or big.  For example, “I avoided the candy bowl at work today.”  “I am now working out 3 times a week and feeling great.”
  • Be creative
    • Find ways to enhance and diversify your workout routine.
      • Write down the various different workout routines on note cards.  Place them into a bowl and every day pick one and perform that routine.  This will keep your workout fresh and unique.
    • Discover new music and add it to your workout routine.
    • Take dance lesions, join a biking club, belly dance.
  • Team up with a buddy or a group of people

How can I get started?

Exercise makes us feel great, but taking that first step towards getting active is easier said than done. If you’re having trouble beginning, or just in a rut, you’re not alone.  Exercise obstacles are very real and we all face them.

Overcoming obstacles to exercise

  • Feeling uncoordinated. Do you hide your head when the tennis ball approaches? Are you stumped at the difference between a foul ball and a free throw? Join the ranks. Don’t worry if you’re not sporty. Instead, find an activity like rowing, walking, or yoga that makes you feel good to be in your body.
  • Feeling bad about your body. Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the goals of getting fit. Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with people at a variety of fitness levels. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence.
  • Feeling pressed for time. If you work long hours, the thought of working out might seem overwhelming. If you have children, managing childcare while you exercise can be a big hurdle. Just remember that physical activity helps us do everything else better. If you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority, you will soon find ways to fit small amounts in a busy schedule.

Tips for getting started in an exercise program

  • Take it slow. The best thing you can do to ease yourself into a fitness plan is to take a moderate approach. Asking too much too soon leads to frustration and injuries. Start with what you feel comfortable, go at your own pace, and keep your expectations realistic. For example, training for a marathon when you’ve never run before may be a bit daunting, but you could give yourself the goal of participating in an upcoming 5k walk for charity.
  • Schedule it. You don’t go to important meetings and appointments spontaneously, you schedule them. If you have trouble fitting exercise into your schedule, consider it an important appointment with yourself and mark it on your daily agenda. Even the busiest amongst us can find a 10-minute slot to pace up and down an office staircase.

Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.

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