I truly believe that the key to living a happy, healthy, and awesome life is to be active. As I outlined in the Seven Steps to Being Completely Awesome, you’ve gotta move. Not just to lose weight or get in shape, but to keep your body and mind firing on all cylinders. Regular exercise has endless benefits, both physically and mentally. In addition to helping with overall body functioning and weight loss, exercise lowers stress, helps you sleep better, supports cognitive function, and makes you happier. You can read more about the benefits of cardio exercise over at Women’s Health. There are a lot of fancy chemical explanations for all of these things, which we’ll cover in time, but in order to get started, let’s just focus on the basics: aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise, or cardio, is a type of exercise that forms the foundation of most fitness and weight-loss plans. These type of exercises include running, cycling, hiking, rowing, walking, and swimming (read more about aerobic exercise on Wikipedia.) When deciding on your cardio, choose things you like to do. Personally, I love running. I certainly didn’t start out running; in high school, it took me almost an entire class period of gym to run the mile. I literally could not get my butt around that track. Now, I run nearly every day.

If you don’t like walking or running, try the elliptical. It can have less impact on your joints and some people find this more enjoyable. Rowing is also an excellent cardio exercise that engages your upper and lower body. Pushing and pulling motions work different muscles, and with rowing you are pushing with your legs while pulling with your arms, making it an excellent total body workout. Cycling is also a great workout, and you can ride a bike outside or at the gym. Swimming is an excellent total body workout as well. Or, you can dance, hike, play tennis…there are many options. Find activities that you like, and you won’t just be working out, you’ll be having fun.

Anaerobic Exercise
Anaerobic exercise is more intense than aerobic exercise. Whereas aerobic exercise promotes endurance, anaerobic exercise promote strength, speed, power, and muscle mass (for a more in-depth explanation, visit Wikipeda). Strength training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) are the techniques I usually use.

Strength training can be done with body weight exercises and with free weights and weight machines. It is an excellent way to jump start your weight loss and to see real differences in your body. The goal of strength training is to build muscle. Muscle is denser than fat, so a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. And when you strength train, you actually cause tiny tears in your muscles which your body works to repair. This repair process takes energy to complete, and your body burns calories to achieve this, all while the muscles are growing back stronger. Muscle is metabolically active and therefore raises your metabolism so you burn calories even when you’re not exercising. Don’t, however, believe the often-heard myth that a pound of muscle burns 50 extra calories a day, as this is incorrect. Women are sometimes scared of strength training because they don’t want to get bulky; this is really not possible for most women as we do not have the testosterone levels to achieve this. Instead, you gain definition and strength. In the weeks to come, I’ll be adding strength training routine ideas, so keep a lookout for those.

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a technique involving short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by a period of recovery time.This allows you to get your heart rate elevated more than endurance training (often around 85% of your max heart rate). During the recovery period, your heart rate lowers, and then you bring it back up to again. You can get a full workout done in much less time than a regular endurance workout; when I do HIIT, my workout lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on intensity. With HIIT, resting heart rate can stay elevated for up to 24 hours after, causing an extended calorie burn after. I could try explaining this better based on everything I’ve learned, but I find that Wikipedia does it better.

Heart Rate Zones
Different levels of exertion during exercise cause your heart rate to fluctuate. You’ll see on many machines that there are weight loss program settings and the “fat burn zone.” Don’t be fooled by the weight loss/fat burn zone. As my friend Anne Marie points out over at Rocky Road Running, you may burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the fat burning zone, but you burn more calories overall in the higher zones, which makes a greater impact on overall fitness. Unless you have a health condition preventing you from intense exercise, i believe that you’re better off working at higher intensities to lose weight and improve performance. The Fox and Haskell formula below shows the different heart rate zones depending on your age.

The Fox and Haskell Formula

If you’re serious about training, I recommend investing in a heart rate monitor (HRM). It is definitely not a necessity for fitness, but can be a useful tool to see how your body is responding to your training. The machines at the gym often have heart rate sensors but they can be very inaccurate. The best way to get an accurate reading is with a chest strap transmitter which sends a signal to a watch that tells you your heart rate. Some HRM models have extra features such as telling you what training zone you are in, how many calories you are burning (you must input your height and weight in the HRM settings), track your GPS location, and save your workout data. Polar makes a line of heart rate monitors that are good quality and you can usually find deals on Amazon.

For me, the key to weight loss and overall health has been to make aerobic and anaerobic exercise a part of my life. The body can do so many amazing things. You can see the physical changes and feel the emotional changes from increasing your physical activity. I hope that this [extremely] abbreviated guide to exercise can help get you started on the path to health and fitness, or help you improve upon what you’re already doing. Exercise is for everyone, so find things you love to do, and make it part of your daily routine.

*Please note, I am a fitness enthusiast, not a certified expert or personal trainer. Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.

Workout Ideas & How To’s

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