Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Women's Health Exercise

Here are some important questions regarding women's health and exercise.

What is exercise?
Exercise is physical work that keeps the body healthy. Regular exercise has been found to prolong your life. Many people perform hard physical labor, but are not "physically fit".

What is fitness?
Fitness is a sense of well being. You feel energetic, relaxed, and strong when you are physically fit. Your body is usually trim, flexible, and coordinated. Regular exercise is an important part of physical fitness. A healthy diet and lowering stress also help you to be physically fit. Exercise can also reduce stress that allows you to be more "mentally fit".

Exercise affects your body in very complicated ways. Scientists have found that exercise is good for your body in many respects. It may help prevent and treat some illnesses, such as:

More people die from heart disease than any other illness in the United States. Doctors have found that the risk of heart disease is much lower with regular exercise. This is why exercise has become very important in the treatment of heart disease.

How will exercise make me feel?
You must perform regular exercise in order to become physically fit. As you exercise, your body adapts to (becomes used to) the work it must perform. You are then able to tolerate more strenuous activity without tiring. When it becomes a habit, you will feel stronger and more relaxed during normal activities. You will probably sleep better. The exercise may even allow you to lose weight if you follow a proper diet.

Will exercise always help treat illnesses?
Exercise may make you feel better overall, but it will not always make an illness better. For example, let us say you have emphysema (COPD) or lung disease from smoking. Regular exercise may help increase your ability to do things without tiring. You may have much more energy and strength. However, the disease does not improve, and you may not slow down the worsening of the disease.

Physical fitness is a state of mind. You will probably live a healthier lifestyle if you are motivated to be "fit". You may follow a healthy diet, lose weight, stop smoking, and reduce your use of alcohol. All of these factors make you feel better, and allow your body to tolerate an illness better. Exercise also helps your body fight infections.

What are the benefits of exercise?
There are tremendous benefits to regular exercise. Exercise can:

How does exercise help certain diseases?
For all of the following diseases, your doctor should help you plan an exercise program. Exercise has the listed effects on the following illnesses:

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. Your doctor will recommend the right number for your heart rate. He/she will also show you how to check your pulse. You may find these numbers on the Internet or in books.

You should perform exercises that are right for you. Most of the time, you should talk to your doctor. You must 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 (< 10 mph)Tennis
Canoeing (2-4 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 minutes
Bicycling (easy pace)100 calories burned in 20 minutes
Aerobic exercise to music100 calories burned in 20 minutes
Gardening (vigorous)100 calories burned in 30 minutes

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:

In summary, diseases are not caused by a lack of exercise. But physical fitness will improve general health and help slow aging. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that is right for you. Most importantly, choose an activity that you enjoy!

Continue to Women's Health Fitness Check

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