Your guide for achieving optimal health ...
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ExerciseHow often, how long, how hard?
The first two questions are easy - do some form of exercise almost every day. If you are going to the gym, your work-outs should not be longer than an hour, unless you are an elite athlete training for some sport. And even then, if your time is used wisely, you will get more bang for the buck with shorter workouts. Many athletes over train, and either wind up injured or sick and tired by overtaxing their system. It is important to understand that it is between workouts that you actually get stronger and more fit, as you recover from your previous workout.
Weight training or other forms of resistance training should be done 2 to 3 times a week, with at least one day off between sessions. During the weight-training session you are actually breaking down muscle tissue, so you leave the gym much weaker than when you entered, and it takes at least 48 hours for those muscles to repair themselves and become stronger than before the workout. Therefore, strengthening the same muscle groups two days in a row does not allow for enough time between workouts for the muscles to regenerate, resulting in weaker rather than stronger muscles. If you are still sore when you go back for your next workout, rather than doing another tough strengthening workout, lighten the weights, and do more repetitions which will get the blood flowing to those sore muscles, and you will probably leave feeling less sore. Or, take another day off and go hard when you have completely recovered.
Cardiovascular training can be done daily, but I would suggest taking at least one day off a week to make sure your body has a day to completely recover. If you are doing cardio 6 days a week, examine your motives. Are you training for an event? Are you trying to burn fat? If fat burning is your reason for spending hours doing cardio, think again. You will get much better results weight training, particularly if you set up a weight circuit using large muscle groups and moving quickly between exercises. Weight training increases your metabolism so you burn more calories all day and all night.
Stretching is frequently dropped when time is short, but stretching decreases compressive forces in your body, and can do a lot to reduce pain. Stretching needs to be done at least 5 days a week to get results. Stretch the tight muscles rather than the loose ones. Simple concept, but we often enjoy stretching the areas where we are flexible already, and don't like stretching where we are not. Stretching the tight muscles will improve muscle balance and help your body function better. Use an exercise professional like a Chek Practitioner or personal trainer to design a program for you based on your needs.
How hard to exercise depends on your health. If you have no health issues, you jump out of bed in the morning full of energy and you don't require coffee to get you through your day, you can exercise hard, and high intensity workouts will increase your fitness and wellbeing more effectively than low intensity workouts. If you have health concerns or you are dragging yourself through your day, perhaps using caffeine or another pick-me-up, exercising hard is a bad idea. You want to train yourself rather than drain yourself. After your exercise session you should feel energized. If you feel like crawling into bed, the workout was too hard. I love Paul Chek's analogy of the body as a stress bucket. If your stress bucket is overflowing and you are in pain or you have no energy, adding the stress of hard exercise that fires up the sympathetic nervous system will make things worse. You still need to exercise, but a more gentle approach is necessary. Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong tend to be calmer forms of exercise that can actually poke holes in the stress bucket and thereby help to heal you.
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