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Your Personal Fitness Plan

Aerobic Fitness - How Hard Should I Exercise? - Target Heart Rate - Muscle Strengthening - Flexibility

No one can prescribe the perfect fitness plan for you. You have to figure it out based on what you enjoy doing and what you will continue to do. The next few pages can be a big help.

Consistency is the most important, the most basic, and the most often neglected part of people's efforts to

become more fit. No matter which activities you choose to do, in order to get the most benefit you need to do them consistently.

Don't forget the important role that nutrition plays in your healthy lifestyle. For information about how active people can get adequate nutrition, see Nutrition.

A good fitness plan has 3 parts: aerobic fitness, muscle strengthening, and flexibility. Many physical activities stress 2 or all 3 of these aspects of fitness. Read the sections that follow to learn about each aspect of fitness; then see "Setting Your Fitness Goals" on See Setting Your Fitness Goals.

Aerobic Fitness

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Aerobic conditioning improves the function of your heart and lungs. The purpose of aerobic conditioning is to increase the amount of oxygen that is delivered to your muscles, which allows them to do more work.

Examples of aerobic exercises include brisk walking, running, climbing stairs, bicycling, swimming, fast-paced dancing, house- and yardwork, or anything else that raises your heart rate.

You don't have to go out of your way to improve your aerobic fitness. Many activities that you do each day raise your heart rate. If you do them regularly and long enough, they will help you become more fit. The following ordinary activities all count as aerobic activity:

How Hard Should I Exercise?

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In order to benefit from aerobic exercise, you need to work hard enough to increase your heart rate. Work hard enough to feel the effort, but not so hard that you become out of breath. Above all, listen to your body. If the exercise feels too hard, slow down. You will reduce your risk of injury and enjoy the exercise much more.

Try the "talk-sing test" to determine your ideal exercise pace:

Target Heart Rate

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Another way to see how hard you are exercising is to check your heart rate. You gain aerobic benefits when your exercising heart rate is 60 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. After exercising for about 10 minutes, stop and take your pulse for 10 seconds (See Taking a Pulse). Compare the number to the chart on See Target Heart Rate. Adjust the intensity of your exercise so that your heart rate stays between the 2 numbers. However, the target heart rate is only a guide. Each individual is different, so pay attention to how you feel.

Target Heart Rate


10-second heart rate























Target heart rate is 60 percent to 80 percent of maximum heart rate (maximum heart rate = 220 minus your age).

Muscle Strengthening

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Strengthening your muscles enables you to do more work and to work longer before you become exhausted. Strong muscles also help protect your joints.

Muscles become stronger through a 3-step process:

  • Stress

  • Recovery (rest)

  • Repeated stress

A program for increasing your muscle strength can be as formal or informal as you'd like it to be. Ordinary house- and yardwork, such as scrubbing the bathtub, washing walls, tilling the garden, or pulling weeds, can become muscle- strengthening activities if you do them regularly. Or you may choose to do resistance training with free weights, weight-training equipment, or inexpensive rubber tubing.

Other simple, safe, and effective strengthening exercises include bent-knee curl-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, side leg-lifts, and other exercises that improve abdominal, neck, arm, shoulder, and leg strength.


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Like aerobic fitness and muscle strengthening, flexibility is a result of physical activity. Flexibility comes from stretching. Your muscles are repeatedly shortened when they are used, especially during exercise.

They need to be slowly and regularly stretched to counteract the repeated shortening that happens during other activities.

Stretching can increase your range of motion and reduce stiffness and pain. Being flexible also helps you have a better sense of balance. Stretching is particularly important during the cool-down phase of exercise when your muscles are warm. See the stretches on See Stretching exercises. Shaded areas show where stretches are felt..

Stretching exercises. Shaded areas show where stretches are felt.

  • Stretch slowly and gradually. Don't bounce. Maintain a continuous tension on the muscle.

  • Relax and hold each stretch for a count of 10.

  • Exhale as you stretch to further relax your muscles. If stretching hurts, you have gone too far or you are doing something incorrectly.

Try to stretch a little every day. Take a stretch break instead of a coffee break, or take dance, martial arts (aikido, tai chi, karate), or yoga classes, which may appeal to your sense of fun and adventure as well as improve your flexibility.

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