Just been to the gym and lifted weights for 30 minutes? Or perhaps running is your thing and you’re about to pound the pavement. Prefer to sweat in a crowd at your local zumba class or love the solitude of body strengthening pilates. Are you a sunrise yogi or a sun-down HIIT girl? Whatever you are, do you know your fit facts?
All exercise is beneficial (with the odd exception!) but are you choosing the right activity for your health goal? Are you looking to burn unwanted fat or mould your body shape by building more lean muscle? Or do you want to improve cardio health and burn off excess carbs (sugars)? Maybe you need to balance your hormones or support your bones from, for example, osteoporosis? Whatever your goal, you may find that some exercises are more suited to what you’re trying to achieve.
Here’s our top tips on how to exercise for your health goal.
Did you know that the body burns a greater percentage of fat at lower intensities than at higher intensities. This is called the fat-burning zone and refers to activities conducted at a lower pulse rate such as walking or gentle yoga. This is great for people starting out with fitness or looking to reduce their body fat to improve health. As your fitness improves you can then move into higher intensity activities which burn more total calories (a mix of carbs or “dietary sugars” and fat) as well as supporting heart health.
High impact or “cardio” exercises principally support our cardiovascular system (heart, lungs and blood transport) although there are many other benefits. This kind of activity raises the pulse rate higher and encourages the body to burn carbs or dietary sugars which are our most immediate source of fuel. This is why you often hear talk of carb-loading before a race or event. Cardio exercise is recommended for everyone with the American College of Sports Medicine suggesting 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week, or vigorous cardio 20 minutes a day, three days a week. Similarly the World Health Organisation recommend 150 mins of cardio per week divided into daily 20-30 minute sessions. This includes all aerobic activities such as running, zumba, dance, cycling and so on…
Our metabolism becomes more efficient the more we increase our lean muscle mass and reduce our fat mass. There are many ‘resistance’ activities which help build muscle mass from HIIT training (think squats and burpees!) to swimming, pilates and yoga. Being metabolically flexible helps support overall health. Its true that muscles weigh more than fat but muscles are actively burning calories throughout the day whilst fat cells lay about being lazy so body composition is key, rather than just monitoring weight. Its recommended we do at least 2 resistance training sessions involving major muscle groups per week.
One really important form of exercise for us women (more so than men) is weight-bearing activities which help support bone health. Thanks to our hormonal patterns it’s common for women to start to experience a reduction in bone integrity or osteoporosis as we move towards menopause. Most of the activities mentioned throughout this article have aspects of weight-bearing from walking through to yoga so chances are if you’re active you may already have this covered. However, it’s worth thinking about now as a prevention for bone health later in life.
Last but not least… whatever your goal and whatever the exercise you choose, be sure to stretch. Exercise, whilst good for us, puts a lot of stress and strain on the body and our muscles need to be treated with care. Stretching before and after a workout helps increase flexibility and limit injury to muscles. However watch out for over zealous stretching of cold muscles! Start slowly and gently and listen to your body. There are many sport specific stretches so depending on your activity you will need to warm up certain muscles before starting or stretch out others when finishing.