Tailor your exercise program to meet specific goals


June 01, 1993|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer/United Feature Syndicate

What do you want from your exercise program? The goals you set determine how you should exercise. Fitness refers to your heart, so if you want to become fit, you should exercise vigorously enough to raise your pulse at least 20 beats a minute above its resting rate and hold that rate for at least 10 minutes. You can run, walk, skate, cycle, dance, ski cross-country, conduct an orchestra or row.

If you want to lose weight by increasing your metabolic rate, try to exercise intensely for at least 10 minutes every other day or at a leisurely pace for at least an hour each day.

If you want to become a better athlete, you need specific training. Developing large, strong muscles requires exercising against resistance for not more than 50 consecutive seconds. Usually, that means lifting and lowering a heavy weight three to 12 times in a row for several different exercises.

If you want to become more flexible, you need a daily program of stretching slowly and deliberately. If you want to develop the coordination that is necessary to hit a baseball or tennis ball or to throw a basketball through a hoop, you need to practice these skills over and over again many times a day.

If you want to increase your endurance, try to exercise continuously every day and for at least an hour at least once a week in your sport. To run faster, you need to run very fast not more often than every other day.

My 76-year-old father's arms and legs seem to be getting weaker and weaker. Can anything be done?

Several recent studies show that lifting weights makes older people stronger by improving the brain's ability to control muscles. Earlier research seemed to demonstrate that older people could not become stronger because, with aging, their muscles lose their ability to become larger. Because of this, doctors often discouraged their patients from doing strenuous exercise, such as lifting weights or pushing on strengthening machines. Now, the vast majority of older people are so weak that they can't get out of a chair without using their hands, can't walk up stairs without holding a railing and can't even lift a 25-pound package.

Virtually all recent research shows that people can become stronger by exercising against progressively greater resistance, no matter how old they are. Strength training doesn't enlarge the muscles of older people enough to be measured. But we now know that you can become much stronger, even if your muscles do not look larger.

Each muscle is made up of thousands of individual muscle fibers. Each fiber is controlled by a single nerve. When you use a muscle, you contract fewer than 5 percent of the fibers at one time. A series of recent papers from the University of Goteberg showed that strength training teaches the brains of older people to contact a greater percentage of their muscle fibers. It is the increased number of contracting fibers that makes the older people stronger.

Encourage your father to get clearance from his doctor to participate in a strength training program. He should receive instructions for a series of different exercises where he will use the heaviest weight he can move comfortably five to 10 times in a row.

Does it matter whether I eat several small meals rather than three large ones?

The average American eats one-quarter of his calories at breakfast, one-quarter at lunch and the remaining half at supper. A recent study from New Zealand showed that eating the same number of calories in nine meals, rather than three, lowers cholesterol. When the subjects ate every one or two hours, their cholesterol dropped about 6 percent. Since a 1 percent drop in cholesterol equals a 2 percent drop in heart attack risk, nibbling may indeed be more healthful than gorging.

You can lower your cholesterol and lose weight by eating small amounts of food frequently, rather than large amounts a few times a day. Eating raises your temperature for up to four hours. This increases your metabolism so that you burn more calories. If you nibble all day long, you increase your metabolism all day long, so more calories are converted to energy and fewer to fat. Nibbling lowers cholesterol only if you do not increase your total intake of food.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.United Feature Syndicate

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