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Step 3: Become Even More Fit (Part 2)

Jan 30, 2007

Our patients often give up physical activity because of aches and pains. Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM explains why Warming Up, Cooling Down, And Doing Aerobic Workouts is so important to keep our patients on track.

Step 3: Become Even More Fit (Part 2)
Warming up, cooling down, and doing aerobic workouts

SheriBy Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM


Include warm-ups and cool-downs in every workout session

It’s vitally important that you warm your body up before you begin any more intense workout in order to get your blood pumping and to prepare yourself mentally for activity. A warm-up serves to raise your core body temperature, which also means that the oxygen supply to your muscles is increased, your muscles are more flexible, and your heart, lungs, and other organs are prepared for a period of activity. A short period (at least five minutes) of low-intensity aerobic activity, such as marching in place or slow walking, is a good way to warm up your whole body. Your muscles and joints should ideally be stretched after your body temperature has been raised and blood flow to your muscles has been increased through easy aerobic activity of some type. Slow, gentle stretches then help to warm the muscles up further and relieve any tension.

A cool-down serves an equally important purpose: to minimize post-exercise muscle fatigue, soreness, and stiffness. The cool-down period is similar to the warmup and should consist of 5 to 10 minutes (the harder the exercise, the longer the cool-down) of low-intensity exercise, such as slow walking again, at the end of your activity. During this time your heart rate returns to normal, metabolic by-products such as excess lactic acid are removed from the muscles, and your body temperature goes down. Pain felt in muscles immediately after exercise is usually the result of residual lactic acid produced during the activity. Cooling down allows your body to remove such by-products of exercise faster, reducing any postexercise discomfort and stiffness. After your cool-down, you should gently stretch out any tense muscles to reduce cramping or tightness and improve flexibility.

Training tips to get the most out of your aerobic workouts

Like most people, you may find that planned workouts are much harder to fit into your daily routine. Studies have shown that people are more likely to consistently accumulate the recommended amounts of physical activity during the day by increasing their unstructured activities rather than by following a formal exercise program, primarily due to time constraints or a perceived lack of time for structured sessions.

Also, you’ll need a higher level of motivation to continue participating in preplanned exercise over time; rates of continued participation are notoriously abysmal. At worst, if you can’t manage to do regular workouts consistently, it pays to emphasize the unstructured ones on a daily basis. Still, structured aerobic workouts undeniably have their benefits and I highly recommend them for achieving overall good health and a higher level of physical fitness.

Easy Ways to Add in Structured Aerobic Exercise

o Participate in after-work team activities such as soccer, softball, or basketball; take dance classes; or sign up for any other activity that you enjoy.
o Get involved in community physical activities, such as fun runs and health walks that require you to train for them.
o Find the nearest tennis courts and start playing regularly (take lessons, if needed), or find the nearest basketball court and start using it regularly.
o Go for walks whenever possible on weekends or in the evenings, and include the whole family, neighbors, or friends.
o Instead of driving, walk, run, or bike wherever you need to go whenever possible.
o Dust off your home exercise equipment, particularly a stationary bike, treadmill, rebounder, or rower, and start using it while watching your favorite TV shows or listening to music.
o If you join a gym or other exercise facility, find one that is convenient to your home or work to increase the likelihood that you will actually use it regularly.
o Set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day to walk, run, or step in place with your significant other or the whole family while you talk about your day.

By definition, an aerobic activity is one that uses your large muscles rhythmically and continuously for more than two minutes at a time. Accordingly, all of the more traditional exercises (i.e., walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobic dance, and more) qualify, but so do some of the newer ones, such as in-line skating, aquatic exercise classes, “hip hop dancing” classes, and some segments of Pilates workouts, just to name a few. An alternative to the more traditional forms of aerobic exercise is participation in more recreational (but planned) after-work or weekend activities such as soccer, softball, or basketball, or ballroom dancing. The current recommendation for everyone is a minimum of three to five days per week of aerobic exercise done for 30 to 60 minutes—either continuously or cumulatively, as long as it occurs in bouts of 10 minutes or longer.


In two weeks, I will share more tips and ideas from my latest book, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight (2006). Information about all of my books, my many articles, my research, and more is available on my web site: www.SheriColberg.com.

Tip for the day: Doing close to three hours (170 minutes) of exercise per week at any intensity improves insulin sensitivity more than if you accumulate only two hours of activity (115 minutes) weekly, regardless of the intensity of your exercise. The length of your physical activities, therefore, appears to be more important for your blood glucose control than their intensity.

Learn more about the Steps to Health Program at STEPS TO HEALTH

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