Tips on exercise and other physical activity

Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Amy Sutherlin, left, is a fitness manager and Laura Morningstar is a clinical coordinator at HealthPoint Fitness in Cape Girardeau. (Kristin Eberts)

Physical activity is a major component to nearly all weight-loss plans. This week Amy Sutherlin, HealthPoint Fitness manager, and Laura Morningstar, clinical coordinator HealthPoint Plaza, answer questions on starting an exercise program and becoming more physically active in our everyday lives.

Q: For someone new to exercise, what's a good starting point?

A: Exercise has many components, including cardiovascular, resistance training and flexibility. We want to touch on all of these, but a beginner can focus on light to moderate cardiovascular training. We want to get the heart and lungs ready for more exercise. You can start with 10-minute bouts and increase your time as you get stronger. The activity should feel somewhat comfortable and can include walking, biking, swimming, dancing or a low aerobics class. There are many options; the key is to find something you enjoy and it should make you feel aware of your breathing but not completely out of breath. With two to four weeks of cardiovascular training, a beginner should be able to add resistance training into their plan. Here, they may need the advice of a fitness professional, because form is so important.

Q: What's a realistic weight-loss goal when starting an exercise program?

A: One to two pounds per week is recommended for permanent weight loss. Keep in mind the best way to lose weight is a combination of diet and exercise.

Q: When considering cardio exercise options, is one better than another -- particularly for those with joint problems?

A: No, one is not better than another. It's important to find a variety of things you enjoy. If you have joint problems, low-impact activities are best: water aerobics, biking, recumbent steppers, etc. As a rule of thumb, if it causes pain, stop! Also, a variety of activities are best because it decreases your chance of injury and keeps your workouts fresh and motivating. Remember that your body will become very efficient at any activity that you do the most, so keep switching things around.

Q: Steroids and other supplements have gained a great deal of exposure in the sports world? Are there any supplements you would suggest for those wanting to build muscle and improve athletic performance?

A: This is a very controversial area and should be discussed with a registered dietitian and a personal trainer with an advanced sports-specific training, such as National Strength and Conditioning Associations Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. These two professionals can provide information specific for any athlete's needs. For the most part, the best way to see an increase in muscle and improve athletic performance comes with proper nutrition and sports-specific training exercises. It's a wise idea to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or before taking any type of supplement.

Q: What is the appropriate age for young people to begin a formal exercise program?

A: With the increase in childhood obesity, it's never too soon to add physical activity! The facilities at HealthPoint in Cape Girardeau and Jackson offer exercise programs for children, starting as young as 2, with Kids Bee Fit, and Lil' Dragons Mul Soo Kwan for children 4 years old. Research shows that resistance training, under the guidance of an exercise specialist, is safe and effective for children as young as 6 years old. Keep in mind that children, if lifting weights, need to be carefully supervised by a certified personal trainer. At this young age, the focus is on proper form and movement patterns first before weight is introduced. Prepubescent children can gain strength from lifting weights, but once they stop lifting, the strength gains are lost.

Q: Many young athletes, particularly those in high school, want to do more offseason training and sport-specific exercises. What steps should these individuals take, and is there anything to be cautious of when training?

A: Training in the offseason is approached totally differently from in-season training. Be cautious of too much overload and repetition with lifting. The optimal offseason program should include periodization training protocols and tapering to prepare for the start of the season. It is important for the athlete to seek the guidance of a sport-specific trainer to avoid overuse injuries and make strength gains that will successfully carry them into their in-season training program. Our facilities offer sports-specific training led by certified strength and conditioning specialists.

Q: For someone wanting to participate in a marathon or another race, what are some things to consider before beginning a training program?

A: Before you dive into a training program or register for an event, know what you are getting yourself into by attending or volunteering at similar events first. Train smart: Talk to people who have done the event(s) you are interested in and listen to their advice and recommendations for training. There are some really good books on the market that are great guides for beginning runners, cyclists and triathletes. We have very active bicycling, running and triathlon clubs in the community, too.

Q: What are some ways people can become more physically active in their everyday lives?

A: Talk to people you admire who are active and ask them what they do to stay active. Make some new habits -- simple things like taking stairs, walking around your office more, choosing far away parking spaces, playing with your children or grandchildren, taking a brisk walk on your lunch break. Even getting in 10 minutes a day of brisk walking can make a big difference. Start with just one or two new activities and continue to do them for five or more weeks; the next thing you know, they will become a habit and you are on your way to a more physically active lifestyle.

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