Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Women's Health Fitness Program

Here are some important questions regarding women's health and setting up an exercise program.

How do you start an exercise program?
Unfortunately, few Americans get regular exercise. You are more likely to adopt a regular exercise program if you choose activities that you enjoy. An exercise program should include:

  • Exercise 3 times a week.
  • Exercise for 20 minutes each time.
  • Increase your heart rate (pulse) when exercising. See target heart rate information below.

You should see your doctor before starting an exercise program if:

If you are over 65, you need to focus on balance and strength exercises first. Then, you may perform aerobic exercises regularly such as walking, biking or swimming.

What makes up an exercise program?
  • Type: there are a few major types of exercise:
    • Aerobic: constant exercise for a prolonged time (walking, biking, swimming)
    • Stretching: makes you more flexible
    • Weight lifting: increases muscle tone and strength
  • Intensity: how difficult (strenuous) the exercise is:
    • Usually followed by your pulse (heart rate) during the exercise
    • Your doctor should recommend a pulse that is right for you
  • Duration: how long the exercise lasts:
    • 25-45 minutes for each session
  • Sessions: what you do during the exercise time:
    • 3-5 minutes for warm-up
    • 15-40 minutes for aerobics or weight training
    • 2-5 minutes for cool-down
  • Frequency: how often you exercise:
    • Daily if you exercise less than 30 minutes or your intensity is low
    • Every other day if you exercise greater than 30 minutes or your intensity is high
  • Progression: how you increase your exercise difficulty or time
    • Start out slowly
    • Keep your pulse in the target range
    • Use a logbook to keep track of progress

What are some moderate vs high intensity activities?
Moderate Intensity ActivitiesHigh Intensity Activities
Walking briskly (3 to 4 mph)Aerobics
Toning exercisesTai-bo
Mowing lawnCycling (racing)
Golf (pulling or carrying clubs)Climbing hills
Home repairCross country skiing
Fishing, standing/castingFitness walking
Jogging (medium pace)Swimming
Swimming (medium pace)Roller skating
Cycling (less than 10 mph)Tennis
Canoeing (2 to 4 mph)Soccer
House paintingJumping rope
CarpentryJogging or running

What are calories?
Food supplies our bodies with energy. Calories are the units we use to measure the energy that food contains. Some types of exercise tend to burn more "calories". Also, you have to exercise harder or longer to burn more calories.

How many calories are burned by certain activities?
ActivityNumber of Calories Burned
Walking (brisk)100 calories burned per mile
Jogging120 calories burned per mile
Swimming100 calories burned in 20 min
Bicycling (easy pace)100 calories burned in 20 min
Aerobic exercise to music100 calories burned in 20 min
Gardening (vigorous)100 calories burned in 30 min

Pulse Rate During Exercise
Your resting pulse is a simple and accurate estimate of your cardiovascular fitness. As your activity level increases your pulse increases to compensate(unless you take medication that blocks this response by your pulse). As your cardiovascular condition improves (through exercise) your resting heart rate will decrease. This is related to increased efficiency in the function of the heart and vasculature. The speed at which your heart rate drops back down to resting levels after exercise is also an indicator of cardiovascular fitness. The quicker your heart rate returns to resting levels, the more fit you are.

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
Your MHR is defined as your age subtracted from 220. For example, a 30 year-old has a MHR of 190 beats per minute. In your exercise program, the MHR is a limit you should try not to meet or exceed.

Target Heart Rate (THR)
When you train, your heart rate should be between 50 and 80% of your maximum heart rate. This is known as your target heart rate (THR). Studies show that exceeding 80% of your MHR provides no additional benefits and may be counterproductive. Those who are poorly conditioned, or beginning a new program, should stay closer to 50% of their MHR until they begin to see results. In general, training at the higher end of your training zone (70-80%) will improve your aerobic fitness. Training at the lower end (60-70%) for a longer period will allow your body to burn more fat (weight loss).

Target Heart Rate Levels
Exercise Intensity LevelTarget Heart Rate
Low Intensity50 to 60% MHR
Weight Loss Intensity50 to 70% MHR
Average Intensity60 to 70% MHR
High Intensity70 to 80% MHR

Target Heart Rate Age Chart
AgeExercise Intensity Level
LowWeight lossAverageHigh

If you are taking high blood pressure or heart medications, which affect your pulse rate, check with your physician to determine the appropriate target heart rate for you.

What are some tips on how to exercise?
  • Always use a mat under you when doing floor exercises.
  • Always wear the right shoes for each activity. They must fit well. If they are too loose, you may suffer blisters. If they are too tight, you may injure your feet. Your socks should pad the skin and absorb sweat well.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors in very warm or very cold weather.
  • Avoid exercising right after you eat. Wait at least two hours after eating before heavy exercise.
  • Do not wear loose jewelry.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before and after exercising.
  • Keep a sugared drink nearby:
  • Exercise in a room with good air circulation. The room should be slightly cool at the start. Then you will be more comfortable when your body heats up.
  • Exercise only when feeling well.
  • Exercise with a friend.
  • Find an exercise routine, teacher, and program that you like.
  • Music may help you enjoy your workout. However, be sure that you can hear cars if you are near the road.
  • Set realistic and safe goals for yourself.
  • Take your pulse at the wrist. Do not take your pulse at the neck. Pressure on the carotid artery in the neck may make you faint.
  • Try to exercise at the same time each day so it becomes routine.
  • Wear loose, layered clothing. As you warm up, you can take off the layers.
  • Performing strenuous exercise while wearing "sweats" can be dangerous. Your body naturally tries to cool itself by sweating. Wear only enough clothing so that you are warm during the exercise.

When should you stop exercising?
You should stop exercising if you do not feel well or have any of the following:

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