Friday, October 17, 2008

Everyday Winners: Starting to exercise


By CONNIE ARONSON
Express Staff Writer

Herculean feats are the norm in the Wood River Valley. Twenty-year-old Miles Fink-Debray ran 3,140 vertical feet to the top of Baldy in a little over 37 minutes, while two women tackled Baldy twice, same race, first on a mountain bike, then again up on foot.

As I write this, 82-year-old, ever-modest Charlie French, who has a couple hundred triathlons (and several world championships) under his belt, is currently bounding up hills and swimming in preparation for the nordic ski season opening.

If you don't have a competitive bone in your body and you'd much rather schlep around in your bathrobe and watch movies, you're not alone. However, if you've decided it's time to ditch the robe, and put on some track pants, the "feel-good" world that athletes are hooked to is yours to share.

Just a little exercise will put you in a better mood. When you're starting out, go easy. Research is clear that exercise intensities beyond moderate at the beginning phases will actually be a deterrent. Knowing how to start out on an exercise regime is imperative. If it makes you feel better and improves your mood, chances are that you'll stick with it and reap the health benefits throughout your life.

Last week, "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans" was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Collaborating with both the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association, the guidelines incorporate the science that links physical activity to improved health and wellness: 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days a week. William Haskell, the lead author of the ASCM/AHA guidelines emphasizes that "a very important idea, especially for people who are inactive, is that health and physical activity are closely linked. The more days a week that you can be active, the higher the value is for your health and wellness." Both groups agree the most important public health message is to begin an exercise program.

You'll discover physiological responses to exercise when you first start out. Your pulse will increase, you'll sweat and breathe more heavily. That's all part of the initial adaptation to the new activity. You don't want muscles and joints to hurt either, so it's best to first start developing your fitness base by aiming for two to three days a week.

Any kind of exercise that you'd think you'd enjoy is good, but walking is a sensible way for the unfit to increase functional capacity. It's convenient and practical. You'll have positive improvements in your mood even at a low intensity of slow walking, and these changes in mood continue as your exercise intensity increases over time. If it feels too hard, and you can hardly talk, research shows there will actually be a negative mood response. Even a 10-minute walk will give you a feeling of calmness and relaxation. Aim to walk a distance easily without pain or fatigue.

In her book "The Spirited Walker," Carolyn Kortge refers to fitness walkers as people who step out, step forward and make a move. She writes that something so basic as walking can be a new experience simply by trying something different, such as walking faster, taller or farther as you get used to the task.

"When a winter wind blows up a flurry of excuses for turning back, she tells herself that I'm moving forward, moving toward my goal. Each step brings an opportunity to confront the mental chatter that holds you back," she writes.

Each step makes you a happier, calmer healthier person, ready for a future Herculean task.

Aronson is ACSM Health Fitness Specialist certified, and an IDEA Elite status personal trainer in Ketchum, Idaho.




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