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  • Kristin McNealus, DPT, MBA

What is Exercise?

The definition of exercise is “physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive for the purpose of conditioning any part of the body. Exercise is used to improve health, maintain fitness and is important as a means of physical rehabilitation.” There are 2 main types of exercise: strengthening and aerobic. Strengthening exercise increases muscle strength and mass, bone strength, and the body's metabolism. It can help attain and maintain proper weight and improve body image and self-esteem. Strengthening exercises increase muscle strength by putting more strain on a muscle than it is normally accustomed to receiving. This increased load stimulates the growth of proteins inside each muscle cell that allow the muscle as a whole to contract. There is evidence indicating that strength training may be better than aerobic exercise alone for improving self-esteem and body image. Weight training allows one immediate feedback, through observation of progress in muscle growth and improved muscle tone.


Cardiovascular exercise is sustaining a level of activity level for heart health and increasing endurance.


For strengthening, you need to work the muscle at a load that it is not accustomed to. If you are lifting a weight or using a weight machine, you want to choose a resistance that is hard to finish 10 reps. You should feel the burn in the muscle, otherwise you aren’t using enough weight. After about 8-12 reps, you should feel like you need to rest. You want to lift this weight in a slow, controlled manner. This prevents injury, but more importantly it is not using momentum to complete the motion. Moving fast one after the other makes it easier on the muscle, and you aren’t getting the full workout. Go slowly in both directions – pushing and pulling. You do these workouts less, like 2-3 times per week to allow your muscles to recover, giving them time to build.


Aerobic exercise includes dancing, walking, sports, swimming or using machines like the arm bike or rowing. Anything that involves you moving for an extended period of time. I recommend at least 20 minutes at a time, but you may need to start lower and work your way up. This type of exercise can be done more days per week. Remember that exercise is a stress on the body. It may not be comfortable when you first start, but if you don’t get into that uncomfortable state, you won’t be getting the benefits.


Exercise and lean body mass boosts your metabolism. Muscle needs more calories to sustain than does fat therefore the more muscle mass you have to more calories you need to sustain your weight (higher metabolism). Fun Fact: One pound of muscle burns 30-50 calories per day, while one pound of fat burns only 3 calories per day! This means with more muscle mass, you are literally burning more calories when you are not doing anything!


The picture shows 5 pounds of fat (yellow) vs 5 pounds of muscle (red) See how the muscle is smaller than the same weight of fat? You may not see a huge change on the scale, but you may notice your clothes getting looser.


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