When many of us decide it’s time to get into shape we often focus on only one or two components of a health & fitness programme. However, to create a balanced programme you need to look at five main elements. You’ll find you’ll reach your goals much faster (and reduce injury) if you incorporate these elements into a structured plan.
Cardio is important for strengthening the heart and lungs as well as burning calories. Consistent cardio can help with controlling weight gain and reducing the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. You should aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio five days a week or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio three days a week (or a mixture of the two).
You work the heart but you can’t forget your other muscles! Muscle burns more calories than fat, even when you are at rest. Also as we get older we lose muscle mass which leads to a lower metabolic rate, weakness, decreased bone density and a corresponding increase in fat. This is preventable and even reversible with progressive strength training. Aim for training each major muscle group two to three times a week. Remember to wait at least 48 hours between training sessions to allow for recovery.
As we get older we lose our sense of balance and become more susceptible to falls and lower extremity injuries. Balance training helps you avoid dangerous falls and you burn more calories because you are required to recruit more muscles to help stabilise your body. Aim for two to three times a week for 20-30 minutes. You can incorporate into your other forms of exercise. For example, try doing squats or push ups on an unstable surface such as a BOSU balance trainer.
Tense muscles are unable to go through a full range of motion and become prone to injury. Stretching relaxes muscles allowing for greater freedom of movement; it also reduces muscle soreness after exercise and increases physical and mental relaxation. Flexibility training should be done at least twice a week and can easily be incorporated after your strength or cardio session. However, remember it is most effective when muscles are warm.
As the saying goes “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” It is easier to eliminate excess calories from your diet than to try to exercise them away. It takes a very intense workout to burn 500 calories that could easily have been avoided. Beyond weight management, a well-balanced diet is essential for providing nutrients to fuel the body such that it functions correctly. The absence of good nutrition leads to a wide range of health problems. Daily you need to cover the main food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, protein. Try to eat at least 3 kinds of food per meal and 2 kinds of food per snack. Drink at least eight, 8oz glasses of water.
Paying attention to these five elements will help you create a solid health and fitness programme; you adapt based on what you are trying to achieve, but these are you five pillars.
Marita Greenidge runs the Health & Nutrition Division at Stansfeld Scott & Co. Ltd. She is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and a health & fitness enthusiast. She has a keen interest in power walking and writes a weekly blog at www.mfitfitnesswalking.com.