Background on Fitness

Young woman doing yoga

Why bother exercising?

Knowing what you want out of exercise may motivate you to work out. Some benefits of exercising include:

  • More energy
  • Improved self-image
  • Enhanced brain power
  • Weight control without dieting
  • Control over appetite
  • Higher endurance or stamina
  • Greater management of stress
  • Better ability to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Toned muscles
  • Quicker healing

How much should you work out?

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule here. You should build your routine gradually to help prevent sore muscles, injury or burnout. You won’t see conditioning results after one weekend of working out; usually your fitness level will start to improve after 2 to 3 weeks, with measurable improvement after 4 to 6 weeks of regular exercise. Most people, however, find they feel better mentally after only doing a little exercise.

Remember, an exercise program doesn't have to take hours you don't have. As little as 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week can start to improve your physical fitness.

Before starting, figure out how intense your workout needs to be in order to improve your cardiovascular system. Find your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart can beat) and your target heart rate by using the formula below:

220 - your age = Maximum heart rate
(.60) x your Maximum Heart Rate = Lower target heart rate
(.85) x your Maximal Heart Rate = Upper target heart rate
Calculate the last two numbers to identify your target heart range for exercising. Try to keep your heart beating at a rate between these numbers for at least 20 minutes to improve your cardiovascular system.

Exercising at more than your target heart rate will not help to condition you heart or lungs and may, in fact, cause harm. On the other hand, exercising below 60% of your maximal heart rate doesn't work your cardiovascular system hard enough to produce conditioning benefits.

If you are exercising within your target heart rate, you should be able to carry on a conversation while your heart is beating fast, and you should be sweating. Take your pulse for ten seconds and multiply that number by 6 to find your heart beat per minute. Do this three times during your workout to see if you are working hard enough or if you are overworking your body.

Your workout should involve three phases: 5 minutes of warm-up, 20 or more minutes of exercising in your target range, and 5 minutes of cool down. A warm up helps loosen your muscles and helps your heart and lungs to slowly increase their level of functioning. For a warm up, try doing your activity at a slow motion pace, or do some slow easy stretches.

Make sure you cool down by repeating your warm up exercises or walking to allow your body to relax and avoid the muscle soreness that stopping abruptly can cause.


Drink water while working out. With each workout, you will be losing water (through sweat). To avoid fatigue or nausea from dehydration, drink at least 16 ounces every 10-20 minutes during your workout. Avoid alcohol and "athletic" drinks like Gatorade (or dilute with one to three parts water) that contain sugar and can be high in calories.

Make healthy eating choices. Give your body the balanced nutrition it needs by eating a variety of nutrient-packed foods daily. Just be sure to stay within your daily calorie needs.

A healthy eating plan is one that:

  • Is high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.

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Fitness for Youth