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How to Build Fitness

Into Your Lifestyle

Fitness means different things to different people. For some, it means running a marathon or having a buff, muscular bodybuilder's physique to show off at the beach. For others, it's just the ability to carry a baby or a bag of groceries up a flight of stairs without panting.

For all of us, fitness should mean having a healthy, functional body - one that enables us to lead a comfortably active life. This is what we emphasize in our expert series of essays on the subject. We also touch on activities such as Tae Bo, tai chi, yoga, and advanced training tips that might not interest you now, but they might gain new appeal as you get into shape.

Fitness is not only an end unto itself. It also is a major component of wellness, which includes physical and mental health and emotional well-being. A physically active child can be on the right road to a lifetime of fitness. A fit teenager will have a wholesome body image, an ability to compete in sports, and enhanced self-esteem. An adult with a workout program can better combat work-related stress, and fit women usually have more comfortable pregnancies, easier childbirth, and quicker recovery than out-of-shape women.

Fit people are more likely to stay well, active, and productive through their middle years when heart disease, cancer, cardiovascular problems, and other health issues begin to crop up. People who retain, or even build, their fitness late in life can remain active and vital for many years.

As we age as a population, such quality-of-life issues are not trivial; they are becoming more important to us as individuals and as a nation and society that is living longer and becoming more conscious of quality of life. Fitness should not be a fling but a lifetime commitment. When you get into a regular program, exercise can become addictive, and it's the best addiction you can have.



According to an ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." And so it is with fitness. To get in shape, drop inches and pounds, and most important, be fit and healthy, you need a plan, steady work, and dedication.

Televiewers who order quick-weight-loss products demonstrate little planning or stick-to-it-iveness. Some products might provide fast results, but they usually are not permanent—and some pills and potions eventually prove to be harmful. At best, most of them don't work over the long run, and the only thing lighter is your wallet.

Such a mind-numbing amount of health information and fitness knowledge is out there that some people who want to shape up, who need to shape up, who must shape up for immediate health reasons give up instead. Building the foundation of a solid workout regime requires strategic planning. This means assessing where you are now and what your realistic goals are.




You've made your resolutions. You've gotten your doctor's go-ahead. You've even had a fitness assessment done. Now what? You only have 24 hours a day, and getting in shape probably isn't the only aspect of your life. Sorting out different ways to gain fitness—both upping your cardio condition and getting stronger—can be daunting. There are many options. None is "better" or "worse" than the others. They all help some people to get fit and healthy. The only thing that doesn't work is a broken resolution. Remember, procrastination is not an exercise.

The chapters that follow highlight many exercise programs to help you select what's right for you. The most important aspects of getting fit are to balance your exercise program between aerobic and strength training and to keep at it consistently until you see results. If something sounds good to you, but it doesn't feel right after you've given it a fair chance, you can try something else. Or if you start gradually—as you should— and outgrow your initial regime, you can switch to a different program.

Whatever you select, remember that a workout is work. You have to put effort into getting fit in order to be fit—and to stay fit. "No pain, no gain" was once a popular motivational phrase, and some people still use it. More recent thinking, however, believes that pain needn't be part of any program. The sense of extending your physical horizons, putting in real effort, and stretching your limits is still what makes a workout work.




Aerobic fitness, cardiovascular conditioning, and cardio-respiratory health all fall into the category of having a healthy heart, strong lungs, and a functioning circulatory system. These are the keystones to enjoying an active, productive life now and an investment in maintaining a high quality of life in the future.

No doubt about it: Aerobic exercise is the only way to gain and maintain cardiovascular health. It means you have to get moving and raise your heart rate to an aerobic level. You can do this by fitness walking, jogging, swimming, working out on a gym's cardio equipment, taking an aerobics class, or dashing up the stairs with a load of laundry to answer the call of a crying baby.

You will recognize that you are in the aerobic zone when you become somewhat out of breath and feel your heart pumping fast. When you first embark on a fitness program, this might not take much—and it might feel uncomfortable or even scary. But as you become fitter and stronger, you will learn to love being in the aerobic zone, knowing that it is making you healthier and, yes, leaner too.



Fitness for its own sake will help you to live longer and healthier, and that alone is worthwhile. But that's just part of the picture. Fitness is the means to an enhanced quality of life as long as you live. It will allow you to enjoy the physical aspects of life too. You may find a vacation to a health and fitness spa to be an effective way to jumpstart a fitness program, which you can then continue at home. Many enlightened business settings are now offering their employees workout gyms.

Housework and yard work, when done with energy, can enhance your quest for fitness. Once you get into a routine, you will find that outdoor activities, sports, and adventure travel that might have seemed impossible to keep up with are now within your capabilities. You'll be able to take a hike, play a game of tennis, or walk or cycle through exotic or beautiful vacation destinations. No matter what your starting point, you will be surprised at all of the things you can do when you add physical activity to your life.

Dieting without exercising or exercising without dieting is only a half-way measure to achieving good health. It takes changing your lifestyle to become trimmer, fitter, and more able to take on life's challenges and take advantage of its opportunities.



In the reports above we have emphasized strength training, aerobic conditioning, and enhanced flexibility. Physical activities that help achieve these goals are important, but they are only a part of the big fitness picture. The most important part is that you do them. That means finding an environment that you are comfortable with to carry out your fitness routine on a regular basis. Nowadays, the your options are numerous: either join a fully equipped and staffed gym or health club, work out at home, outdoors... or take advantage of luxurious hotel spas while you are traveling.

While embarking on a fitness program is a positive thing on the whole, there are some things to watch out for. Some obstacles that might make it seem unrealistic or difficult. Such obstacles include injury, illness, permanent disability, pregnancy, or advancing age. Some of these—injury, illness, pregnancy—are temporary setbacks that you can work around. Others—disability, the passing of years—are permanent situations that you have to learn to live with. Fitness can help you do that, for none is a barrier to being as strong and healthy as you can be, given the temporary or permanent features of your life.