Tag Archives: fitness

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 2B. Physical Activity — Look at the numbers…

andres-urena-qSw5XKtUyus-unsplashToday’s Physical Activity notes:

Numbers are real and give us a way to compare and evaluate things. They can help us keep track and improve our behaviors and processes in business and manufacturing and industry and science. Numbers are also helpful in our health. We look at heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiratory rate. We have people rate their pain level. We use numbers in assessing our risks for various diseases – ie. cholesterol, fasting insulin, blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c (representing an average of our blood sugars over 3 months), etc.

One way to assess your physical activity level and your fitness is to look at numbers also. In an earlier post, I discussed perceived exertion and monitoring heart rate. I recommend using numbers to keep track of what you are doing and where you want to go. Numbers are easy to monitor and helpful in setting goals and assessing your progress. Today, I recommend getting an idea of your general daily activity level & assessing your current fitness level.

1. General daily activity level. Wear a pedometer or accelerometer or use an equivalent app on your smartphone or get the popular FitBit or Apple watch to get 5-7 days of numbers. Find out how active you are at baseline. If you workout regularly, wear it also when you are working out. If you do not workout regularly, then you will see how active you are at this time when you are not regularly working out.

It helps to get many days of numbers and average them out. (You can get the average steps in a day by adding up all the numbers and dividing that big number by the number of days you collected numbers.) If you are walking on average closer to 3,000 steps total in a day, that’s more like a couch potato. If you are walking 10,000 or more steps a day, you can say you are active and your body will have the healthy benefits of increased circulation.

The goal is to figure out where you are starting & see if you can increase that number by 10% every 2 weeks. (10% would be taking off the last number in your daily average. For example: If you walk 3,000 steps, you would need to increase it by 300 steps in a day at 2 weeks, so that you are walking 3,300 steps total in a day).

2. Assess your fitness. First, figure out your baseline heart rate. Ideally, you will check this when you have been sitting or even better, first thing on waking up. Use a heart rate monitor if you have one. OR You can figure it out on your own by doing this: Find a clock that shows seconds. Find your pulse on your wrist: palm up, on the thumb side, under your wrist crease and to the outside of that middle tendons on the wrist, you can feel your pulse. Some people gently feel their pulse in their neck. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by 4. If you check it every day for a week, you will have a good idea of your baseline heart rate range.

As your fitness improves, this baseline heart rate actually will get lower. This is because regular movement & activity (often called exercise), strengthens your muscles including your heart, so it can pump more with fewer beats. It becomes very efficient with each pump. That’s why highly trained athletes often have VERY low heart rates.

Now that you know your baseline heart rate, you will find out how much time it takes for your heart rate to return to the baseline range after exercise or strenuous physical activity (when your heart rate was higher than your baseline). From the time you have finished your activity or exercise, time how long it takes your heart rate to return to your baseline. As your fitness improves, the time for your heart rate to return to baseline will become shorter. In other words, your heart can adjust that much faster and more efficiently to the demands of your body. This is fitness.

It is nice to assess these numbers every 4-6 weeks & write it down! It is SO motivating!

 

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

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Perceived Exertion & Heart Rates — How to use them

This doctor’s Perceived Exertion Scale

Scale of 1-10.
1 laying in bed or propped up
2 sitting up
3 standing
4 standing & / or jiggling
5 walking
6 brisk walk/slow jog – point of breaking a sweat, could keep doing this for hours; equivalent of 60% of max heart rate
7 sweating, still able to have a conversation; 70% of max heart rate
8 breathing faster through mouth, sweating more; 80% of max heart rate
9 not able to sustain for long time, breathing hard, conversation has to wait; 90 % max heart rate
10 hard as you can go, balls to the wall, takes concentration on working it…this is your personal maximum heart rate

Keep perceived exertion in mind…

I’m a fan of the heart rate monitor when I am working out. I like numbers. I use a polar heart rate monitor even though I don’t care to wear a chest strap. I have just found it is the most reliable and it is easy to use. If you work out at a gym, it will often “talk” to the motorized gym equipment like the treadmill, elliptical, stepper, stationary bike, etc.

Here is how I use my heart rate monitor. First, I rate my perceived exertion at the level of exercise I am doing – & see what my heart rate is. This lets me know my own heart rate zones for different levels of perceived exertion so I know how vigorous any activity is for me. Then, I look at what my heart rate is when I am going 10/10 & note that as my personal maximum heart rate. Then, I can figure out my approximate heart rate which correlates with each level of perceived exertion. Now, I can see how I am doing.

What I find is that as my fitness improves, I can do more for the same heart rate response. For example, I can walk 3.6 mph at a 4 degree incline on my treadmill and I am at a level 6 that correlates with a heartrate in the 120’s. Previously, when I first started my current exercise program, that same setting on my treadmill felt more like an 8 on perceived exertion and my heart rate was in the 160’s.

Also, as the fitness level improves, the time it takes for your heart rate to come back down gets shorter. In other words, your recovery time gets shorter. Instead of 10 minutes to cool down, it only takes 1 minute.

Finally, when you know what your resting heart rate is, you can objectively see if your body is under more stress (ie. fighting a brutal cold) & adjust your workout accordingly. So, given my resting heart rate is in the 50’s, if I have a cold & my resting heart rate is in the 70’s or 80’s, I know I may not want to exert myself too much. In fact, I can just gently walk slowly & see my heart rate will rise quickly. OR I can just do some stretches or some gentle yoga and make sure I am getting my fluids and taking care of myself in other ways.

We are all scientists when it comes to our own bodies. It helps to learn of more ways to understand what it is telling us. I suggest keeping a log of your observations. In this case, write the date & time, write down your activity (including duration and settings) and your perceived exertion and heart rate. I include my average heart rate and my maximum heart rate also. Then I include some notes about how I was feeling. I always finish with a positive note & then I review what I will do next time. Numbers make it easier to follow your progress. It’s so fun to look back on all of the successes!

In a future blog, I will discuss how to use this information to organize your workout plan – how to evaluate your workout and how much time you will invest into working out.

12 Rules to Finding the Perfect Workout Program For You

gesina-kunkel-gRNcA7jFIeg-unsplashElements to look for in a week of an excellent workout program for you:

  1. It is fun or sounds like fun to you.
  2. Easy to learn the moves and the routine. It’s hard to get started when the routine or the moves are so complicated you have trouble following or remembering how to do them. Once you are in the routine of working out, you can add in or advance to more complicated routines and moves, but by then, you will be in the groove and it will be hard NOT to work out because you feel so good when you do. When starting out, keep it simple. Make it hard to make mistakes or to get discouraged.
  3. It can be done easily. For example, you have the equipment at home, your gym is convenient to get to, it is NOT a nuisance to set up or get ready to do, no too long. What you DO NOT want: I’m talking about the treadmill that folds up & fits under that bed in the cluttered room or the exercise bike that has become an extension of your closet, or the room that will need to be cleaned of clutter on the floor so you have space to do your workout DVD? Who wants to do laundry or clean up clutter & pull out & set up the heavy treadmill prior to each workout? Or is your gym is 30 minutes away, close to where you used to live or work or go to school? You want to add an hour commute to the time in the gym to squeeze in your work out? No. Make it easy to exercise.
  4. It should have enough routine to make it a habit, but enough variety to keep your body progressing forward over time.
  5. Rest days have to be built into it. One day per week should be completely off of strength training. If you can’t stand it, do some yoga or go for a nice walk on your day off. Also, I recommend a plan to allow at least 24-48 hours between strength workouts of the same body areas. This means, do NOT do the same strength training routine 2 days in a row. For example, ideally, schedule a minimum of 1-2 days between chest workouts. Work out each muscle group at least once per week, depending on your program and your goals.
  6. Your program should allow slow but steady progress forward and that progress should be apparent to you. Progress is motivating. Plan ahead for progress and stages of progression. For example, scheduling the week with increasing number of reps or increasing weight in a planned manner makes it very easy to see the progress and know how to progress. I suggest writing down what you are planning to do, and then what you ACTUALLY do. Do not do more than what you planned, but if you cannot increase as planned, don’t force it, That is where you are moving towards. Just adjust your plan accordingly.
  7. It should include strength training, often called anaerobic exercise. Strength training is important in keeping us independent longer. It includes exercises where your muscles push or pull against resistance. This can be done in many ways such as with weights, machines, bands, medicine ball, or even your own body weight and gravity. Some people also use a stationary surface to push against. If you are new to strength training, have someone teach you the proper ways to do the moves or find some reputable DVDs or online instructional videos to see how to do exercises properly. **Just a note about the importance of strength training for men & women of ALL ages…It can help keep us more physically independent for longer. I am in no rush to lose my independence & move into a nursing home so I will continue to make sure my muscles stay strong. This will help prevent falls and other injuries that are common with poor strength. If something happens to me, it will allow me the best chances for optimal recovery and also speed up my recovery. The patients that defy what the doctors predicted for their outcome after an illness or injury, AND end up doing remarkably much better than predicted, are usually the ones who were physically stronger prior to hospitalization. They have more reserve. Also, I want to be able to continue to walk on my own. I’m going to work on NOT needing assistive devices to walk. Can you tell, being independent and maintaining my mobility are a VERY high priority for me?
  8. It must include core training. This is often known as the “ab workout.” As we get older, spend more time sitting and/or we gain weight, our abdominal muscles and core muscles get weaker. This can cause lower back problems which can also lead to other joint problems. Core training treats and prevents back injury. It also improves posture and makes everyone look more attractive.
  9. It should work the heart. This is often called cardio or aerobic exercise. I am a fan of high intensity interval training (HIIT) using perceived exertion as my measure of intensity (I plan to discuss this further in a future post). This allows me to work out for a shorter duration while improving my power, strength & endurance. Given the short duration of intervals, the time flies by. And if you wear a heart rate monitor, recovery to baseline heart rate is a great measure of your cardiovascular fitness. If you are deconditioned (out of shape), it takes longer for your heart rate to go back to the usual after a workout. When you are fit, your heart rate returns to your usual much faster. Over time, as you continue to exercise, your heart rate will come down much faster after you finish your workouts. You recover faster after your workout. This means you have improved your fitness!
  10. It should include some stretching. I like yoga, passive and/or active stretching. This is the portion of the workout where you classically slow down and listen to your body. This is also important to allow our lymphatics and circulation to flow and to open up the joints. Certain stretches and yoga moves are particularly good for keeping the spine healthy and improve arthritic pains. A single sequence of sun salutations (yoga) takes 90 seconds and is a great way to start your day as you get out of bed.
  11. Limited or ideally, NO risk of injury. Learn proper form, advance SLOWLY & don’t do exercises that have high risk of injury to you.
  12. At the end of your exercise, you should feel energized and look forward to your next workout. I log my workouts and jot down a few notes. In a future post, I will go more into detail about the workout log. Meanwhile, enjoy the process. Make each day be a day you move forward and feel good about yourself.

Photo by Gesina Kunkel on Unsplash