HOW MUCH?

I have a busy life and am not sure that I can set aside half an hour every day for exercising. Is my effort wasted if I do not take exercise every day?

You must begin slowly - you cannot become an athlete overnight - and increase gradually. The aim is to perform any aerobic exercise for 30-40 minutes four to five times a week. Even relatively modest exercise is good, e.g. gardening, housework and dancing, but it is better if you can develop a walking programme to include both distance and speed as well as enjoyment (see below for a good programme to follow).

Try to exercise at least every other day and more at the weekend (a walk in the country at the weekend will be fun and less polluted than a city walk). Try to make it a regular commitment, such as every lunch hour, especially if your workplace offers showers. Afterwards, have a glass of water. Ask a friend or partner to join in. Keep a record to judge your progress. Dancing can be quite vigorous (such as country dancing), so it is a particularly good form of exercise because you can build up from gentler beginnings. It is also exercise with a good social side to it.

I am put off exercising because, in my exercise class, everyone else seems much fitter than me. Why is this?

Life is like that! At first everyone seems fitter: they may have been working at it longer. They were probably unfit once and so they will be supportive. You are the most important person and you should focus purely on your own programme. Don't worry about what everybody else is doing. It is not a competition. Don't be embarrassed, get stuck in.

SAFETY

You mention talking to my doctor before I start exercising. Do I really need a medical check first?

If you have no medical problems, the answer is no - get out and start straight away. If you've already had heart trouble or don't know about your blood pressure, get this checked by your doctor and ask for a cholesterol check while you are there. If you are 'at risk' (over 60 years, a smoker, have diabetes or on medication for your heart), it's best to check with your doctor first.

I'm worried that I might overdo things. Should I take any special precautions before exercising?

These are the guidelines.

• Don't exercise if you feel unwell, for instance if you've had flu or a bad cold. If you have had any recent illness, go back to exercising only when you have recovered and then build up slowly.

• If you get chest pain or breathing trouble while you are exercising, see your doctor.

• Don't exercise after a heavy meal or a hot bath - wait two to three hours before doing any.

• Avoid caffeine and alcohol for an hour before and after exercise.

Last time I tried jogging, I tore a calf muscle and was off work for 2 weeks. How can I avoid this happening again?

Don't exercise too hard too quickly and always loosen up first (see the warm-up exercises below) and do some cooling down exercises last: walk slowly for 3-5 minutes, stretch for 2 minutes. Never overdo it. One of the best things to do is to buy the correct shoes for the sport you are choosing (see question later regarding special clothing for exercising).

CHOOSING YOUR EXERCISE

My local recreation centre offers 40 different sports from judo to meditation. What is the best form of exercise to do?

Any aerobic exercise is the best. This is dynamic exercise using large groups of muscles - for example walking, jogging, cycling and swimming. Non-aerobic exercise builds muscle strength (what is known as isometrics) but does little to help the heart's fitness and can be harmful, as it can make your blood pressure rise.

I lead a very busy life and just do not have time to exercise. Is there anything I can do?

Your health should always come first. No one on his death bed wished he'd spent more time at the office! However, you can exercise around your commitments.

- Climb the stairs rather than take the lift.

• Park so that you have to walk 200-300 yards to where you are going.

• If you use public transport, get off the bus, train, tram or tube a stop early and walk to or from the station.

• Walk the children to school.

• Take your young children to the park and run about with them.

• Clean you car rather than using the car-wash.

 
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