Muscles love movement: There are three types of muscle tissue, cardiac, smooth, and skeletal and they all benefit from various kinds of physical activity, and are depleted by sedentary behavior.
Balance is best: A fully balanced fitness program includes cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises. Just as balance plays a role when it comes to nutrition and healthy muscles, balance when looking at different types of activity also benefits your muscles.
Do cardio most days: Ongoing movement that causes more blood flow will cause your heart rate and breathing to increase. These increases keep your smooth and cardiac muscles healthy.
Include twice-weekly strength training: The recommendation, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM), is to include two to three sessions per week dedicated to building strong muscles.
Stretch daily: Flexibility is vital to all your muscles and your overall fitness because it helps you to ease tight muscles and provides your body with more freedom of movement during other types of exercise.
Last week we discussed the three types of muscle tissue, cardiac, smooth, and skeletal, and nutrition strategies for each. All your muscles need exercise to be healthy, and that’s what we’ll be discussing here. A broad way to define muscle is as a group of tissues in your body that contract to move or to hold something (a pencil, blood flow, air in your lungs, good posture, etc.). These muscles include your heart, esophagus, intestines, lungs, and your blood vessels and arteries, as well as the muscles that contract to move arms, legs, fingers, and toes. There are even muscles that maintain your posture while standing, sitting, walking, and running. There are even tiny muscles that are responsible for eye movements and facial expressions. Some are under your voluntary control, while others seem to con- tract along happily without seeming to need any help from you. But, looks can be deceiving.
The cardiac and smooth muscles that include your heart, bladder, intestines, esophagus, and so on, are influenced by the activity you do—or don’t do—on a regular basis. In addition, there are more
than 600 skeletal muscles in your body that you do have at least some control over, and these need exercise as well. Here are the basic guidelines to make sure that your muscles are getting all the attention they need:
Move more, sit less:
Non-Exercise Activity Training (NEAT) or “sitting is the new smoking,” are the mantras of the day. To care and maintain all the muscles in your body on a base level means breaking our modern habits of sit- ting. Most of us sit somewhere around 80 percent of the day. You can cut that dramatically by setting your alarm to go off once an hour as a reminder to get up and move around for five to ten minutes. This doesn’t just benefit the muscles in your body, but it’s a key way to keep your mind sharp.
Do cardio most days:
Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise provides an abundance of increased blood flow to your heart, lungs, and skeletal muscles. The health benefits that you obtain from cardio will build strength and endurance. This type of exercise helps your body burn fat, aids weight loss, makes your heart stronger, increases lung capacity while reducing heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression, and more.
The American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for cardio or aerobic exercise suggests moving your body at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes per week) to 300 minutes (5 hours per week) each week, with the addendum that more is better. Sticking to the low end will provide the minimum to maintain basic health while aiming for a higher quota will provide two important muscles, your heart and lungs, and many others with more benefits and protection from chronic disease. Anything that gets your heart rate up for an extended period of time counts. Examples of moderate aerobic exercise include brisk walking, water aerobics, ballroom or social dancing, biking slower than 10 miles per hour, and doubles tennis, while vigorous exercise would be running, hiking uphill with a heavy backpack, swimming laps, fast cycling, jumping rope, heavy yard work such as digging, and singles tennis.
Include twice-weekly strength training:
The recommendation, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM), is to include two to three sessions per week dedicated to building strong muscles. Resistance training can reduce arthritis pain, some cancers, heart disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, fall risk, low back pain, obesity, stroke, and more. Strength training can be done with weight machines, with dumbbells, exercise bands, or by using your body weight to do pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, and calf raises. Here you are looking to use short, high-intensity activity that relies on energy stored in your muscles. ACSM guidelines recommend eight to 10 multi-joint exercises, like those just mentioned, per session.
Flexibility is important to all your muscles and your overall fitness because it helps you to ease tight muscles and provides your body with more freedom of movement during other types of exercise. Stretching is something you can practice separately or incorporate with your other workouts. Your muscles stretch best when they are already warmed up from movement. Practices like yoga and tai chi inherently include balance and flexibility training. You can also add stretches and balance moves be- tween strength training exercises or at the beginning and end of your cardio or strength training.
Start where you are:
Start gradually. If you haven’t been doing much exercise at all, start with cardio. Get out and walk. Even if you do with a 10-minute stroll around the block, you’ll be doing your body good. If you’ve got the
cardio down, add strength training. Start with the simple equipment-free exercises mentioned above, and if you want something more structured, check your local gym or community center. Add some stretching at the end of your cardio and strength. Consider adding a yoga class to the mix. Want to work on your balance? Stand on one foot as you do some squats. Functional exercise can be as simple as sitting down on the floor and getting back up. Do it four or five times. Heep your exercise simple. If it becomes overwhelming, you’ll be less likely to stick with it. Search online for other ideas. The internet has endless tutorial articles and videos. Find activities you like to do so that you’ll be more likely to stick with the plan.
Next week we’ll discuss how mood, sleep, and stress influences your muscles.