By Gary DeSantis
Usually, Jan. 1 is the time when most people make resolutions about things they want to achieve for the upcoming year. I bet more than 75 percent of those resolutions involve changing habits to be more healthy and embarking on an exercise program to achieve those goals.
I’m no expert for sure, but I have exercised on a routine basis for well over 30 years and would like to share some ideas to help my friends on how to reach their goals of fitness and good health. Before I get started, let me begin with the requisite caution: Check with your physician and ask what you can and can’t do. Assuming you have your doctor’s OK, decide if you want to go solo or if you might do better with a personal trainer.
For a small community, we have an incredible number of capable trainers. To name a few, there is Carla Chisholm, Bill Lawrence, Nakia Bailey, Rob Shea, John Sutton, Jake Scott and a dozen others. The YMCA or gym will have a list of trainers who work in that facility and will give you the contact information for each. Each has their own training style, clientele and exercise philosophy. If you are going this route, it’s time for another discussion with the potential trainer about what you want in terms of goals and expectations and how those fit in with their particular style and philosophy.
Whether you get a trainer or not, you might want to consider a group exercise option. Classes are available at all the local facilities, are matched to the fitness levels of the participants and are a nice way to ease into an exercise program.
Here are some other suggestions:
Take things pretty easy at first. Keep your goals sensible in terms of activity and accomplishment. I think an exercise program should be based on three areas: cardiovascular conditioning, weight or resistance conditioning and flexibility maintenance. A reasonable cardio program should be at least 50 percent of your allotted work out time. So if you have an hour to work out, half an hour should be devoted to running, treadmill, elliptical or bicycle. The level of difficulty should not be crazy hard, but just enough to get your heart rate up and you breathing a little quicker.
If you break a sweat and are feeling OK, so much the better. Some trainers will tell you that 50 percent cardio is unnecessary and they might very well be right, but this is how I run my program. Some folks do their cardio after their resistance training. I do mine before to get it done.
For weight or resistance training, all the clubs have dumbbells and exercise equipment. All will provide instruction on the use of the equipment and you can master it quickly. The weights, however, do require some special training and here’s where the trainer can be most helpful. If you want, calisthenics are great for cardio and resistance training. Push ups, pull ups, squat thrusts and many others are fantastic for a training regimen. Again, a trainer might be able to assist in learning and scheduling these kinds of exercises.
After the exercise, stretching is important to maintain flexibility and the kinds of exercises is endless. Make sure you know what to do and how to do it before you embark on any complicated stretching.
How often to exercise? I think at least three times a week. If you can, make it at the same time of day so as to ingrain it in your behavior patterns. I do cardio every day of the week and lift a different body part every day, with one lifting day off. Some might say that is extreme, but I believe the body is designed for daily cardio use as long as there is no knee or joint damage. Of course, there are some incredibly fit people who exercise only three times a week and they think I’m nuts.
I used to think that exercise was 75 percent of the fitness equation. Now, I’m convinced that how much and what we eat is more important than how much we exercise; though both are essential for overall health and fitness. So my equation would be 70 percent diet, 20 to 25 percent exercise, and 5 to 10 percent genetics.
I have to admit I haven’t quite figured out how to eat well and I struggle with it on a daily basis. If I ate better, I probably wouldn’t have to exercise like a mad man. If you really want to do it right, why not get in touch with Rosanne Rust or a dietitian to plan your nutritional program?
For most of us, embarking on an exercise and nutritional program is a lifestyle change and that is a good thing. Often, and especially for women, it seems like selfish behavior. While this may be partially true, I believe this “selfish” behavior enables you to perform for the people in your life. Without good health, no one can live their lives to the fullest and, if you wish, give the attention and care to the people they love. In a very real sense, when we improve our health we are doing the people around us a huge favor.
It’s an important thing to establish a goal, a resolution, and then bend your behavior to that goal and your will. It is the most empowering thing an individual can do. For this reason exercise and adherence to a resolution has a profound impact not only on our bodies, but on our minds. Beyond that, regular exercise has documented physiological mood elevation properties and is effective for an overall sense of contentment and happiness. A little sweat is a powerful drug physically and mentally, and we are in control of it.
Happy New Year!
Gary DeSantis is a Meadville resident and author of a recently published book titled “The 6th Floor.”