Adding exercise to your life is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health today and tomorrow. As unrelieved stress seems to be the cornerstone of worsening all your bad habits and damaging your health in far-reaching ways, exercise can be the factor that amplifies all your good habits as it combats the inevitable negative influences on your health.
Before this point in the Makeover, you were not physically or psychologically ready for the steady exercise of this lesson. But now you feel more in charge of your body and your health. You’re enjoying the benefits of better nutrition. You’ve eliminated sugar and caffeine from your diet, and your blood sugar is on a more even keel. You’ve discovered the pleasure of renewed energy and optimism. You’re ready to believe that exercise will help you feel better still.
We believe this Week is one of the most important weeks in the Makeover. Not because of any of the specific results of adopting an exercise program, though they are considerable. But because of the far-reaching effects of exercise on the self-confidence and general sense of well-being experienced by people who exercise. Many people have told us that once they begin to exercise, no matter how simple their adopted program, all the changes they’ve effected with the Makeover seem that much more important to them. And though most intended to stick with those changes, they find that exercise stiffens their resolve and gives them renewed enthusiasm. Even if you’ve never managed to stick with any exercise routine in the past, you’re going to find that this time things will be different.
This Week’s Goal
The goal this week is to become more active. If you already exercise, don’t skip this week: You should use it to review your chosen exercise, and see if you’re getting all the benefits possible from it. If you don’t exercise at all, don’t be intimidated by the idea of developing an exercise plan. The point is not to become a world class athlete or to train for competition. Some of you may find that a program of walking, which you can fit easily into your schedule, will be all the exercise you need. In any case, the important goal this week is to make some progress in developing an exercise routine. By the end of the week you will understand clearly why you should be exercising, and you will have integrated exercise into your life so it has become a habit.
Exercise as Antidote
When I began to exercise, before I experienced my own Makeover, I thought of it as an antidote to all the things I was doing to my body that weren’t good for it. If I had been drinking, at a good exercise session the next day I would “sweat out” the alcohol and I would feel better. If I had eaten too much, the exercise session made me feel as if I were burning off extra calories. A close friend told me that my posture was becoming more and more stooped. He said this during a particularly stressful time in my life, and after his comment I did notice, if I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, that I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. So exercise also became an antidote to my deteriorating posture. The program was fairly sporadic. I exercised when I felt I needed to and when I had time.
I used to think of exercise as medicine. It hung over my head like an obligation, and even though I usually enjoyed exercising, I never really thought about it in a positive way. I realize now that my feelings were typical of most people who haven’t integrated exercise into their lives. Most people approach exercise as they do taking medicine, and if they maintain that attitude, they have great difficulty sticking with an exercise program.
Exercise as Enhancement
There is another, better way to approach exercise, and it’s one we encourage everyone to adopt: exercise as enhancement. Exercise is an enhancement of life, and we believe you need it to feel fully alive. Your body was meant to work, to move, to stretch and sweat. If you allow yourself to take pleasure in using your body, you’ll move beyond the exercise-as-antidote attitude and begin to find real joy in your body.
The statistics in a recent Gallup poll reflect many people’s personal experience: People who exercise regularly find that the benefits are greater than they anticipated. In fact, judging from the results of this poll, these benefits are all life-enhancing. Though most of these people began exercising to improve their health, (46 percent) or for weight control, (24 percent), they also found unexpected benefits:
—They have more energy than they used to, (62 percent said they got more accomplished every day because of exercise).
—Exercise has made them more relaxed, (66 percent).
—Exercise has made them feel more creative at work, (43 percent).
—Exercise has made them make new friends, (46 percent).
You may begin to exercise for reasons of health and vanity, but if you develop the right program, you’ll soon find that exercise touches every area of your life and gives you more pleasure and satisfaction than you had thought possible. The key is to find the right exercise for you, and to stick with it diligently for the rest of the Makeover in order to give it a chance to work. Exercise will no longer be just an antidote, it will be an enhancement.
Knowing that exercise is good for you may provide some initial incentive, but it won’t keep you going for long. Fortunately, one of the immediate benefits of exercise is also one of the things that will help you stick with it. Exercise enhances your mood. Scientists can’t explain how or why it does this, but there’s no question it does. Herbert de Vries, professor of physical education at the University of Southern California, tested muscle tension in a group of subjects after half had exercised and half had taken tranquilizers. His study showed that even minimal exercise that you would get in a fifteen minute walk is more relaxing than a tranquilizer.
There’s evidence that the levels of certain hormones in the brain increase which makes people feel happy. Others have noted that exercise increases the blood supply to the brain, and, based on the fact that senile people who are given oxygen often think more clearly and enjoy improved moods, they think that exercise may similarly improve moods among active people. There’s also evidence that beta-endorphins, the body’s natural opiates, are produced in high levels when we exercise regularly. Beta-endorphins increase pain tolerance, counter stress, and give an all-round good feeling. Beta-endorphins also help lower blood pressure and suppress appetite, and some researchers have speculated that the production of beta-endorphins is the reason some people become “addicted” to exercise.
Studies have shown that exercise diffuses the Type A personality – the personality that tends to hard-driving competitiveness and to having a chronic sense of urgency, aggressiveness, and even hostility. A Duke University study on 46 men and women who engaged in a ten week program of exercise found that scores on tests that measure Type A behavior were reduced significantly.
While an improvement in mood or an ability to relax might not seem like the most important benefit of exercise, we mention it now because it seems to explain why once people begin an exercise program, they are loath to give it up. In fact, one researcher tried to do a study in which thirty people who exercised regularly would discontinue their program for ten weeks, which was the duration of the study. But he couldn’t find any regular exercisers who were willing to give up their activity for that long or, for that matter, for any length of time! The point is, once you begin to exercise, no matter how overwhelming the task may seem at the moment, you’ll find that your body truly becomes your ally, and the good feeling you derive from exercising will help keep you going.
The Fat Factor: Exercise and Weight
If you are overweight, this could be enormously discouraging because we tend to think that any efforts to lose pounds permanently are doomed. But that’s not the case. Exercise can make the crucial difference. Exercise can help the body achieve a new set point that will allow you to maintain a weight level that looks better on your frame and, of course, is better for your long-term health. (This set-point theory was reported in “The Dieter’s Dilemma”, by William Bennet, M.D., which stated that your body, much more than your conscious mind, determines how fat you will be. Everyone seems to have an individual set point for a level of fatness that the body strives to maintain. You may starve yourself to below your set point, but you will be stressing your body, and once you go off your diet, you will invariably bounce back to your old overweight state.) Aerobic exercise increases your metabolic rate, increases and helps maintain your lean body weight, and causes enzymatic changes that facilitate fat metabolism. If you are overweight, or would simply like to lose a few pounds, exercise is the answer.
There are a few myths about weight loss and exercise that we should dispel first. Some people believe that exercise isn’t worth the effort because it takes too much activity to burn up calories, and if you’re not burning calories, you’re not losing weight. Putting aside the set-point theory which disproves this myth, other evidence demonstrates that your body burns more calories than usual for hours after you exercise. This is a result of the higher metabolic rate you achieved through exercise. In contrast, dieting will lower the metabolic rate by nearly 20 percent, which means that the dieter, sitting still, is burning fewer calories than the person who has just engaged in exercise, even a mild variety. Moreover, the exerciser is burning fat while building or at least preserving muscle, but the after is losing a pound of muscle for every three pounds of fat lost.
Finally, some people argue that exercise increases their appetite. While it’s true that if you play a rousing game of tennis on Sunday morning, and it’s your only exercise, you’ll probably feel more hungry than usual on Sunday night. But the person who exercises regularly – at least three weekly sessions of aerobic exercise – will find that his appetite is, if not suppressed, at least regulated. Many people have been surprised to find that if they exercise at the end of a working day, their appetite for dinner is diminished significantly. Then you can resist “treats” and fix a light, nutritious dinner.
Fringe Benefits of Exercise
As if improving your mood, helping you lose weight, and reducing your risk of heart disease weren’t enough, there are a few other things exercise can do for you.
Osteoporosis is the condition that causes thinning of the bones, particularly in women after menopause, and six to eight million American women suffer from it. But now there is evidence that regular exercise helps maintain the density of the bones and prevents osteoporosis from developing in the first place.
By now you know the dangers of sugar and how a wildly fluctuating blood sugar level can place stress on your body. Research at the University of California and elsewhere has demonstrated that regular exercise can help you maintain your body’s sugar level by making it more responsive to the insulin it secretes. While this is of particular interest to anyone with a family history of diabetes, it also suggests that exercise can be of help to the average person in controlling blood sugar levels.
Many people are surprised to recognize how exercise helps combat chronic fatigue by increasing their energy levels and capacity for work. It does this by bringing more oxygen to the brain and keeping you more alert during the day. I noticed this was one of the early benefits of my exercise program. At the same time, exercise helps you sleep because it produces beta-endorphins, which help release the day’s tension. And, of course, exercise makes you physically tired.
Before You Begin….
Many people who are planning to start an exercise program wonder if they need medical supervision. We believe that most otherwise healthy people do not. For one thing, we don’t believe that all physicians are qualified to determine the best exercise program, even for people who are at risk. Our general advice is, if you consider yourself healthy, and your answers to the following quiz don’t indicate that you should seek medical advice, then simply proceed. Naturally if you notice any symptoms following exercise or in connection with exercise, you should consult a physician.
Here are some questions, adapted from guidelines of the American Heart Association, that should help you gauge if you have any risk factors that indicate special caution in adopting an exercise program:
1. Have you ever had a heart attack?
2. Have you ever had rapid, irregular heart action or palpitation?
3. Have you ever had pain, pressure, or a tight feeling in your chest during exercise or any physical activity, including sex?
4. Have you ever taken digitalis, nitroglycerin, quinidine, or any other medication for your heart?
5. Have you ever been told by a physician that you have angina pectoris, fibrillation or tachycardia, an abnormal electrocardiogram, a heart murmur, rheumatic heart disease, or any other heart trouble?
—If you answer yes to any of these questions:
There’s a high probability that you have a heart problem, either recognized or unrecognized. Before you begin an exercise program, it’s essential that you have a complete checkup and probably a stress test. You should exercise only in a medically supervised program – perhaps one run by a cardiologist – with facilities that could handle a heart emergency.
1. Do you have any of the following risk factors for coronary heart disease:
—Do you have diabetes?
—Do you have hypertension?
—Has your physician ever put you on a special diet for your heart or blood pressure, or given you medication to lower your blood cholesterol?
—Do you have a blood relative who had a heart attack before age sixty?
—Do you smoke cigarettes?
2. Are you more than twenty pounds overweight?
3. Do you have other health problems that might affect a fitness program, such as chronic illness: asthma, emphysema, or any lung condition, rheumatism, gout or arthritis?
4. Do you get short of breath with activities that don’t seem to bother others?
5. Have you ever gotten cramps in your legs if you walk briskly?
6. Do you have any condition limiting the motion of your muscles, joints, or any part of the body, which could be aggravated by exercise?
—If you answer yes to any of these questions:
Before you begin an exercise program, you should have a complete checkup and probably a stress test. Depending on the finding of both and the opinion of your doctor, your exercise program could be either supervised or unsupervised. For example, if you have uncontrolled diabetes with constantly fluctuating blood sugar, the diabetes should be under control before you begin any type of exercise program. If you smoke, depending on other health factors and your doctor’s opinion, you probably can begin a moderate exercise program without any problem.
Once people are convinced of the need for exercise, they usually want to begin immediately. Most of them want to sign up at a health club or start right in jogging. It’s at this point, right at the very beginning, that the novice exerciser is vulnerable to failure. Over-enthusiasm can kill your best intentions.
Perhaps you’ve bought a membership at a health club before, owned a collection of exercise equipment, (e.g. leg and arm weights, stationary bicycle, rowing machine, etc.). Maybe you’ve begun each of your efforts with a burst of enthusiasm, but in each instance have tried to do more than you should have. You’ve joined strenuous exercise classes that ultimately exhausted you, have tried working with weights that were too heavy for you and even your stationary bicycle, which could have been good exercise, proved overwhelming when you tried to do too many miles for your condition. You never knew what shape you were in. You assumed that the more exercise, the better. You actually program yourself for failure by taking on more than you could possibly hope to achieve. Instead of having beneficial effects, the exercise was exhausting you physically and discouraging you mentally.
Perhaps you can argue that you’ve already achieved so much on the Makeover that you are satisfied and want to skip the exercise week. (Yes, it may take a little reminding to make you see that you needn’t undertake a punishing exercise program – that a mild, well-thought out exercise that you like and that suits your physical condition would be fun and easy and successful). It would be better for you to choose some easy, low impact kind of exercise like swimming or walking that you would stick with, rather than a harder exercise you would give up. Perhaps you can even lose those extra pounds you’ve been carrying around without making any effort to reduce calories.
The Makeover Exercise Goal: Aerobic Fitness
What does it mean to be fit and how can you achieve it? There are three components of physical fitness: endurance, strength, and flexibility. Endurance allows you to produce energy over a long period of time. Strength refers to the amount of force that a muscle can generate. Flexibility is the range of motion through which a joint can move. Each of these three things is important in any exercise program, but they are not your main goal. Your Makeover goal is simple: You’re working toward aerobic fitness. Exercise can have other, very specific goals: working on flexibility with regular stretching exercises, alleviating lower back pain with calisthenics, or building muscular strength with weight training. You can include these goals in your exercise program, but they should be secondary to aerobic fitness, because aerobic fitness will have the greatest effect on your current feeling of well-being, your ability to handle daily stress, and your prevention of future chronic disease.
Examples of aerobic-type exercise are walking, running and jogging, (running – less than eight minutes a mile, jogging – more than eight minutes a mile), cycling, swimming, cross country skiing, aerobic dancing and calisthenics.
What is aerobic fitness? It means the ability of your heart and lungs to support moderately strenuous activity over a period of time. Its goal is to help the heart become a stronger pump that beats less often but pumps more blood. You accomplish this by raising the heart rate during an exercise session and maintaining this elevated heart rate for at least twenty to thirty minutes. There are three principles that neatly summarize this concept of aerobic fitness. They are called the F.I.T. formula and provide a basic outline for how you should exercise.
–Frequency: To really benefit from your exercise, you have to do it often enough that a “training effect” takes place. You must exercise at least three times a week, but I think four times a week is best. You must space your sessions through the week: Don’t exercise for three days in a row and then skip four days. If you don’t follow a pattern of activity followed by rest days, your body doesn’t get a chance to work a muscle and then recover; and if you take too long between exercise sessions, you quickly begin to lose the fitness you’ve achieved.
–Intensity: You must exercise hard enough as well as often enough. How do you know what’s hard enough for you? Well, generally you want your heart to beat faster than usual as you exercise; making extra demands on your heart to increase its power and capacity. (This could include an hour or so a day of gentle exercise like walking or 30-40 minutes of more strenuous exercise like cycling or swimming.)
–Time: Finally you have to maintain this higher heart rate for an optimum amount of time. The duration of the exercise is as important as its intensity. If you work in short five-minute bursts of extreme intensity, you won’t be getting the cardiovascular benefits of aerobic exercise. I believe the optimum duration of an exercise session is thirty minutes at the beginning. As you progress, you may want to extend the length of the exercise sessions, but it’s a mistake to start out with long sessions; they’ll tire and discourage you, and you can injure yourself by training too hard at first. Some exercises lend themselves to one hour periods. That’s fine as long as you’re working at the proper intensity for your level of training, (that level which won’t burn you out.) The point is that you can’t reap the benefits of aerobic exercise if the session is shorter than a half hour.
Sticking with It
The hardest part of an exercise program is facing the second or third week. Usually you can get through the first week on sheer enthusiasm. But as the days go by, something always comes up as an appealing alternative to the exercise session. And then if you skip once, you’ll be tempted to skip again; and before you know it, a whole week has gone by and you haven’t exercised once. If you can manage to stick with the program for the first three weeks, you’ll probably find, like most people, that you’ll look forward to it because you recognize how good it makes you feel.
–Choose something you enjoy: This is perhaps the single most important step you can take to ensure a successful exercise program. You can be certain you won’t continue with any work-out that you don’t enjoy. If you don’t look forward to doing the exercise, it’s just too easy to find an excuse to avoid it. The biggest danger after you begin is boredom; and the more you can do to avoid being bored, the better your chances of success.
—Set a regular exercise schedule and exercise with a friend, if possible: The main reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. But the busiest people can find the time to exercise if they set it as a priority. Some people find that early morning exercising gives them a boost of energy that lasts throughout the day. Others find that exercising after work helps them relieve the tension of the day and reduces their appetite so they eat a lighter evening meal.
Exercising with a friend can be an excellent way to keep up the momentum. But you must be sure your friend is as committed to exercise as you are. Someone who expects you to exercise a few times a week can also put just the amount of pressure on you that you need to stick with your program.
–Make exercise fun and convenient: Do anything possible to add pleasure to the sessions. Exercise with music, or to a favorite television show. Be realistic. You have to figure on how much time and trouble you will take for each exercise session and plan accordingly. An aerobics class around the corner may be a better solution than an exercise class at a gym on the other side of town.
–Trick Yourself into getting started: Do anything you can to get yourself started. Tell yourself you’ll only do a portion of your exercise, or promise yourself a treat when you finish.
–Buy books for inspiration: It’s almost inevitable that you’ll get stale at some point. I suggest you buy a book about your particular exercise and read it for inspiration. The Bible itself says that “For physical training is of some value” 1 Tim. 4:8, and “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Cor. 9:25-27- obvious references to the necessity of physical discipline in our lives to keep us on the right tracks spiritually and emotionally. If there’s a magazine devoted to your exercise, subscribe to it. This can be just the jolt you need to psych yourself to further efforts.