Exercise Advice for the Beginner

The strongest advice I can give the beginner is to exercise often. Lots of articles in magazines state that maximum benefits are obtained by exercising three times a week, an hour each session. Such statements are misleading. Moderately fit people can do fairly well with such a schedule, but not the beginner. Aerobic exercise instructors love this advice because it fits their class schedules. But the advice doesn't fit high-level athletes who need much, much more than three hours a week, and it doesn't fit the beginner. Beginners should not exercise for an hour without stopping. And they should not limit their sessions to three times a week. Instead, they should exercise three or more times a day, for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time.

The neophyte's body isn't used to exercise. Doing 3 or 4 fifteen-minute sessions a day instead of one long bout not only makes you feel less tired but also seems to stimulate the body to initiate the various changes I've discussed in my books. As you become more fit, longer sessions produce better results, but in the beginning I urge you to stick with short, frequent sessions. At times I do this myself, even though I have exercised all my life. On cold winter days when I'm at home writing in my study, I turn the heat down and hop on my stationary bicycle every hour or so. Pedaling for ten or fifteen minutes warms me up for the next hour and makes me feel more alert. I profit in three ways: I get fit; being alert helps me write more efficiently; and I save on the gas bill!

Beginners benefit from exercising seven days a week. The experienced athlete does just as well with fewer sessions, but not the beginner. Like a new puppy that hasn't been housebroken, the untrained body has to be constantly reminded with exercise before it starts behaving the way it should.

People often ask whether it's better to exercise in the morning or in the evening. Some studies have shown that morning exercisers are less likely to quit than those who do it in the evening. Other people claim that it doesn't matter when you exercise as long as you do it at the same time every day. They say that your body seems to prepare itself for the exercise by elevating temperature and heart rate, as if all the muscles were "warming up." I think morning versus evening versus same-time-of-day arguments are silly. The real issue is to make exercise fit your lifestyle. My lifestyle allows me to exercise at various times during the day, which I prefer because I don't get bored.

As a beginner, you should select at least one indoor and one outdoor exercise. There are many to choose from, and in The New Fit or Fat I discussed the merits and disadvantages of several. Rather than reviewing them again, here's a quick selection. New readers can refer to the earlier book for more details.

Outdoor Exercises for The Beginner Indoor Exercises for The Beginner
Walking/walking with hand-held weights Stationary bicycle
Slow jogging Rowing machine
>Bicycling Treadmill
Mountain hiking Stair climbing
Cross-country skiing Cross-country ski machine
Video aerobic classes
Aerobic dance classes

I especially recommend aerobic dance classes for women. They're fun, and they offer a camaraderie that encourages the beginner to stick with it. Because of the variety of movements and exercise, the beginner is less like to experience the problems (shin splints, sore ankles, hips, knees) associated with other, more repetitious kinds of exercise.

As a beginner, you have option that a fit person who exercises for longer periods might not consider. You can park a half-mile from work and walk the extra distance in ten or fifteen minutes. While dinner is in the oven, you can sneak in twelve minutes to walk or slowly jog around the block. One woman I know wears a small backpack, walks one mile to the store, and, European style, buys just the groceries she needs for the day. In a way you have an advantage over the experienced athlete who has to make time to exercise. It's easy to slip in ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there.

You may also wish to do something anaerobic for your muscles, such as sit-ups, or you may want to exercise by playing a game such as golf; but be sure to do aerobic exercise for fat control.

We need a clear definition of aerobics so that you won't buy a gizmo or program that doesn't yield aerobic benefits.

An Exercise Program is Aerobic If It:

  1. Uses the large muscles in the lower part of the body (buttocks, thighs), because working the big muscles has systemic effects.
  2. Gets you warm and breathing heavily without being really out of breath and without producing lactic acid. This means your hear rate is 65-80 percent of its maximum.
  3. Goes on without interruption for twelve minutes if all the muscles are used, as in a rowing machine or cross-country skiing; or thirty-five minutes if very few muscles are used, as in walking. The more muscle used, the less time it takes to get a systemic response.

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