From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Do what you love. Love what you do.

For many, that expression holds true for their career path as well as their fitness routine. Participating in activities you enjoy is key to making activity a welcome part of your day rather than the "dreaded" chore you force yourself to do.

You are more likely to bike, play tennis, hula hoop, run or swim if it's something you like to do or have participated in at a different stage of your life.

A couple of friends of mine tried Zumba through a low-cost adult education program in their neighbourhood a few years ago. They told me that the dance exercise program based on Latin and International music was so much fun and easy to do that to this day, they continue to seek out classes several days a week — even if it means driving 20 minutes or more to take the class from their favourite instructor.

Two guys I know, who began running in a group a few times a week, now carve out time several days a week to run so that they can participate in 5 K races around the region.

Committing to regular physical activity — especially when your routine has meant spending more time on the couch than on a bicycle — is a challenge, and will take some trial and error to find what you love, but once you find it, the rewards are endless.

Beginners: Start slowly with 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, with the end goal of being active for a full 60 minutes. If the last time you participated in anything vigorous was in elementary school gym class, start by walking around the block. Then add another block every day until you do 30 minutes. If you're planning on playing a new sport like badminton or basketball, take plenty of breaks so your body can adjust to the activity. Add strength training by lifting small weights to start and then increasing as you become stronger. In other words, you want to be active enough to challenge your body but not overextend it to the point that you're unable to be active the rest of the week. Remember: you need to be active to make your heart strong, keep the weight off (a risk factor for heart disease), and give you a general sense of well-being.

Intermediate: Kick it up a notch by adding some intense intervals into your regular routine. If you jog, add a hill or two to your 20-minute run (whether in your neighbourhood or on the treadmill). If you swim, learn the butterfly stroke. Once a week, opt for the hour-long spinning class offered at your local gym instead of the 30-minute step class. Increase your strength training by adding new moves. Challenging your body can translate into a healthier heart, and overall greater strength and endurance.

Advanced: Cross-training is an effective way to add more staying power and motivation. If you're a runner, try mountain biking. If you're a competitive swimmer, sign up for snowboarding. Move on to bigger and better weight-lifting moves when you're ready. When you cross-train, your body becomes strong in all areas, from your arms to your calves.

What's the right activity for you? The one you'll do. So think on that point as you embark on your healthiest year ever.

Before starting any new activity program, be sure to talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional.

This physical activity column was written by a Certified Personal Trainer Professional and Fitness Instructor and reviewed by a specialist in kinesiology.

Posted: September 2010

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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