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"And the LORD God took the man [Adam], and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." Genesis 2:15. God's original plan was for people to be active. Physical activity is necessary to maintain all our functional body units and to keep a reserve physical capacity to handle emergency situations.

Use or lose

Today, in many parts of the world people are forced to be physically active just to survive. They must obtain food and clothing, build shelters, travel great distances on foot, and work with their hands in a variety of life-sustaining occupations. In our society, however, we have found ways to get around most of these problems. Automobiles carry us where we want to go, and machines do much of our work for us. Society has become specialized to the point that most people are involved in occupations not requiring very much physical labor.

Some vigorous physical activity on a regular basis is needed in order to prevent our bodies from deteriorating. Syndromes of disuse include obesity, lack of endurance, general muscle weakness, protruding abdomen, chronic low-back pain, muscle stiffness and soreness, low breathing capacity, intolerance to stress, elevated resting pulse rate and blood pressure, increased blood-fat levels, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

What is "physical fitness?"

Physical fitness comprises several components. Endurance is the ability to perform work for sustained periods of time without undue fatigue. It is dependent upon several factors. Chief among them is the ability of the cardiovascular system to supply oxygen-rich blood to the muscle cells and for these cells to utilize oxygen and fuel to produce energy.

Building endurance

Endurance is best improved by increasing systematically, but gradually, the time one spends in regular periods of mild to moderate exercise. Mild to moderate exercise might be, 15-60 minutes of walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, or doing manual labor at a pace that causes the heart rate to increase and be maintained at from 50-85 per cent of its capacity for the duration of the exercise period. A 37-year-old with a resting heart rate of 72 wanting to exercise at 70 percent capacity would calculate his target heart rate with this equation.

(220 - 37 - 72) x 70% +72=150

In this example 150 beats per minute would be the target heart rate. For those less adept at math there is always the "talk test" to guide you. It works like this, "If you can't carry on a conversation, you're exercising too hard. If you can sing, you're exercising too easy." When you exercise this way you are maintaining a "steady state." This continuity is necessary to develop endurance and the "training effect." Such endurance training must occur about every other day.

Muscle strength

Another component of physical fitness is muscle strength. The bigger the muscle the larger the muscle fibers are to do the work. This is comparable to a wire cable-the larger the wires, the stronger the cable you have. However, a muscle may look big on the outside, but may actually contain a great deal of fat. Size can be deceptive when it comes to strength.

Physical strength also involves the bone-mineral density. Brittle bones could give way simply from the stress of one's own muscles pulling hard on them.

Muscle mass is increased and strength developed by systematically and gradually increasing the resistance against which a muscle is made to work. Common methods include weights, isometrics, dynamic tension, and manual labor.


Flexibility involves the degree to which our muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons allow us to move in our full range of motion. Common problem areas include the low back, shoulders, and chest-muscle groups, and the back of the legs. These muscles become tight, and we lose mobility because of prolonged periods of sitting, improper body alignment or posture, and lack of exercise.

There are specific stretching exercises that can be done to correct and maintain our full range of motion of all the muscle groups. Also the habit of maintaining proper posture at all times needs to be learned.

Whichever stretches you are doing, it is always best to stretch slowly and easily. Gradually allow the muscle to relax and reach a full stretch. Never jerk, bounce, or force a stretch. You could do serious injury. In time the muscle will lengthen to its full potential. Back pain or any persistent pain could be serious and should be evaluated by a physician so that the cause may be determined and appropriate treatment given.

Body composition

Body composition can be considered as an element of physical fitness. This term commonly refers to the percentage of body fat. Maximum levels for health might be 15 per cent fat in men and 22 per cent fat in women. Many men are averaging 24 per cent and women 35 per cent. Ideally, we should strive to maintain a healthy percentage of body fat, as well as a good overall weight that suits our occupation, height, and frame.

The amount of exercise necessary for most people to achieve metabolic body fat changes exceeds that which would be required to simply get in shape. Take at least one month to slowly work up to about an hour of continuous moderate exercise five or six times per week. This should be enough time to burn the recommended 500 calories' worth of exercise per day or 2,000-3,000 extra calories per week that seems to be the average amount required for a weight-loss program.

Before starting a physical fitness program

Now that you know what physical fitness is and what exercise can do for you, you're ready to blast off! Right? Just a minute. The conservative approach would be to have medical clearance if any of these apply: past age 30 and have not been exercising, overweight, have a history of high blood pressure or heart trouble, or you have not had a checkup in the past year.

The liberal approach would be, if there are no obvious warning signs, to go ahead and start exercising. Just make sure you start out easy and progress gradually. Learn how to exercise correctly and take care of yourself.

Some general guidelines and precautions include not engaging in strenuous exercise for an hour or two after eating. (Light exercise after eating is good, though, as it aids digestion.) The same holds true when you are sick or not up to par—vigorous exercise is out, but light exercise might be beneficial in some cases. Aches and pains may be avoided by not attempting to do too much too soon, using proper form, and having good shoes, clothing, and other equipment you need.

Serious warning signs during exercise may include unusual shortness of breath, weakness, heart irregularities, or pressure or pain sensations that can be anywhere from the wrists to the pit of the stomach to the jaws and between the shoulder blades. In these instances you should discontinue exercising and see a physician right away. Other signs such as dizziness, nausea, side aches, prolonged recovery, and miscellaneous aches and pains may be attended to by yourself first. if no relief is obtained or if in doubt see a physician.

Program outline

A good, streamlined overall exercise routine might look something like this. First, have a five-minute warm-up period consisting of stretching and a few calisthenics. This will get the body prepared for what is to follow and help prevent injuries. Then, do five minutes of some muscle-toning exercises. Work the upper body and abdomen if your main endurance exercise is going to be mostly using the leg muscles as in walking, jogging, or cycling. Now get into your endurance-building phase. Start out easy for the first few minutes, and progress up to your training level of intensity. Keep it up for 15-30 minutes.

Some exercises that are aimed only at working the muscles and not the cardiovascular system do not qualify for fulfilling this phase of the exercise program. Also, exercises that are too short, too intense, or too easy will not allow you to reach your training heart-rate level in a reasonable length of time and maintain it for the duration of the training phase.

Stop gently

Don't stop abruptly when you are done. Slow down and keep moving at an easy pace. This cooling-off period should last five to ten minutes. Your pulse rate should he below 100 beats per minute within three to five minutes after entering the cool-down part. If it is not, you may be overdoing it. You can easily feel your pulse at your wrist or side of the throat. You can count for ten seconds and multiply by six to get your heart rate for one minute. An exercise program like this should be done at least three to four times per week or every other day.

It takes time and effort!

Each time we exercise we place a demand on the body. The body will adapt to those demands. This is known as the "overload principle" and is the basis for maintaining and improving fitness. In short, to get anything out of it, you have to put something in—that spells work.

The idea of "work" turns many people away from exercise. Many people feel that they are already overworked, so why go out looking for more? But, as has already been explained, few people's work is the kind of work that will promote physical fitness. For these people especially, a fitness program would give them more energy in the long run by helping their bodies to become stronger and function more efficiently.

Still, there are others who do not think they have the time. But we simply need to make time, because we need exercise for health. Cut down on other things. If our own physical well-being is not a high enough priority, what is?

Getting and staying motivated

Many people are ready and willing to exercise, but they lack motivation. They can't seem to start, or once they start, they don't stick with It. Fear of death prevents some from exercising while it encourages others to exercise. If an exercise program is properly entered into and carried out, we need not be afraid. The vast majority have much more to fear from not exercising than from exercising. But fear is really a poor source of motivation. Knowledge of the benefits helps some, but it doesn't seem to work in motivating people who are not interested.

For most people the essential ingredients to get started on an exercise program are that it needs to be fun, convenient, and not too difficult. Injuries turn people off, so they should be avoided by taking necessary precautions.

Consider the exerciser, the environment, and the exercise. Strive for a happy union of all three. Other motivating factors include having a regular routine that you stick to, joining an organized program with trained leadership, or having group participation. Obtaining positive feedback from other people, getting results, and charting your progress so that you can see and keep track of how you are doing are all helpful. The approval of your doctor and doing better on your physical exam this year than last year are good incentives.

Self-disciplined individuals and people who lead well-regulated lives find sticking to any program, including exercise, easier. These qualities are largely picked up in childhood. People who don't acquire them early in life may have a more difficult time, but nevertheless it can be done. After all, everything we do in life is ultimately a daily decision. We are always making decisions. Making the right ones can be made easier if we concentrate more on living one day at a time. As we do this, we will find ourselves taking advantage of opportunities more, and reacting to the consequences of our neglect less.

Beyond this life

Many people have found a "fountain of youth" for themselves in their exercise program, and that is enough to keep them motivated. But neither exercise, diet, stress management, or anything else will keep us going forever. Everyone knows that these bodies of ours are slowly wearing Out. We can slow down significantly the rate of decline, but someday the silver cord will break. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was." Ecclesiastes 12:7. This ending would be sad except that it is not the end.

Soon, when Jesus comes, all the righteous who have ever lived will come forth from the grave, and, together with the living righteous, will receive perfect, immortal bodies. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

This series of health information flyers includes the following titles: Pure Air, Sunlight, Abstemiousness, Rest, Exercise, Proper Diet, Water, and Trust In Divine Power.

Compiled by Kurt Unglaub, M.P.H.

E-mail: staff@projectrestore.com
Web page created: 1/26/99, format updated: 12/22/2003