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Time-crunch fitness

You’ve got a spare hour to work out—perfect! That’s the amount of time U.S. government experts say most of us should spend exercising almost every day to maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic disease.

But how to get the best all-around workout from your hour? Break those 60 minutes down into three manageable periods of 30, 20 and 10 minutes that involve the areas essential to total physical fitness: (1) working your heart, (2) strengthening your muscles and bones and (3) stretching. Here’s how to fit it all in and make the time fly by:

  • Devote the first 30 minutes to working your heart. Moderate to vigorous cardiovascular conditioning, or aerobic exercise, increases blood flow. Aerobic exercise helps your heart and lungs work more efficiently, lowers blood pressure and promotes weight loss. It also warms up your body for the remaining half of your workout.

    How: Try walking, hiking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, jumping rope, dancing or in-line skating.

  • Spend the next 20 minutes strengthening your muscles and bones. Resistance, or weight-bearing, exercises promote muscle and bone strength and endurance. They also fight osteoporosis, a potentially devastating disease that weakens bones and increases your risk for stress fractures, such as a broken hip. What’s more, a recent study shows weight training helps women avoid middle-aged weight gain linked to heart disease.

    How: Work with hand weights, exercise bands or gym machines, or use your own body weight as resistance (by doing, for example, push-ups or squats). Search the Web or your library for simple exercises to strengthen your back, legs, arms and stomach muscles. Don’t work the same muscles on back-to-back days; alternate muscle groups. For example, on Monday work your arms, on Tuesday work your legs, on Wednesday tackle your shoulders and so on. Consider booking at least one session with a personal trainer, who can teach you how to perform exercises safely and effectively.

  • Finally, take 10 minutes to stretch. Stretching keeps you flexible and injury-free, so avoid the temptation to skip this last step. Stretch at the end of your workout when your body is warm and supple.

How: Yoga or stretching videotapes, DVDs or classes can teach you simple moves. Check fitness magazines and books or browse the Web for stretching suggestions.

Remember to get your doctor’s OK before starting any fitness program. If you’re prone to injuries, do a few targeted stretches after your cardio workout and before your resistance training to get those vulnerable body parts ready for more strenuous exercise. Then, end your exercise hour with your stretching routine.