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Exercise and Physical Fitness: Just the Facts

Whether it is on social media, websites, magazines, or other publications specializing in health and wellness—there is no shortage of tips on exercising with the promise that you will achieve miraculous results in no time at all. The reality is that attaining physical fitness takes work, time, commitment, and consistency. While the latest exercise fads may catch your eye, they may not be the best for your situation. For individuals who are new to exercising, a physical fitness regimen needs to be carefully structured to meet goals which might include weight loss, cardiovascular health, gaining muscle mass, improving balance, or increasing endurance. Exercise is a science, and no matter what your goal is, it can be achieved by choosing the right type of exercise. So, if you are a novice and want to start a fitness regimen, where do you start? Faculty from the School of Kinesiology at George Mason University recently offered some guidance. Joining in the discussion was Graduate Academic Program Coordinator Debra Stroiney and Assistant Professor Tiphanie Raffegeau from Mason’s Kinesiology program, and Associate Professor Candace Lacayo from Mason’s Athletic Training Education program.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise has many health benefits, among which is preventing the onset of Type 2 diabetes and improving cardiovascular health. This type of exercise extracts glucose from the blood for use by the body’s muscles. In addition, because aerobic exercise burns both fat and carbs, it is beneficial in managing weight. The repetitive nature of aerobic exercise involving the same large muscle groups also helps to build endurance. Finally, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cognition and mental health.

Strength and Conditioning

The loss of muscle mass and bone density is an inevitable part of aging which can affect day-to-day activities. However, strength and conditioning protocols that include resistance training can help preserve muscle mass, improve functional movement, and minimize loss of bone density as we age. Strength training can also improve blood glucose levels and help prevent cardiovascular disease as well.

Balance and Neuromotor Exercise

The ability to maintain proper balance so that you are better able to keep from falling becomes increasingly important as adults age. Neuromotor exercises that focus on strength, agility, balance, and coordination can help with the prevention of falls in older adults and can minimize any injuries they might sustain if they do fall. These exercises can also improve reaction times so that an older adult is better able to maintain proper balance when maneuvering around obstacles or challenges that may impede mobility.

How much exercise do you need?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. ACSM also recommends at least two days per week of moderate or high intensity strength training involving all major muscle groups. It is important to remember that there is a dose-response component to exercising meaning that an individual who exercises beyond these minimums will achieve greater benefit.

Is there such a thing as too much exercise?

The short answer is yes. Overtraining syndrome is a behavior sometimes observed in athletes driven to achieve certain performance levels and who do not allow themselves to rest after exercise. An individual suffering from overtraining syndrome can exhibit physical symptoms such as a continuously elevated heart rate, frequent stress fractures, constant fatigue, and behavioral changes that include aggression or depression.

Recovery is a key part of exercising

Exercise is a stressor that requires a period of recovery regardless of whether an individual is a weekend warrior or an elite athlete. Exercise scientists emphasize that recovery is a vital tool that enables an individual to perform well at the next workout or within a competitive environment. Recovery might mean taking a day off or engaging in a different type of activity such as yoga or walking the day after a high intensity workout. Nutrition or “replenishing the fuel tank” also plays a significant role in the recovery phase of exercising. Experts recommend that individuals consume proteins and carbs after an intense workout to replenish the stores of glycogen that are depleted, and which are needed for muscles to function properly.

Personal trainer vs. Athletic trainer

If you are seeking the assistance of a trained expert to help you get started on the road to fitness, you may have heard the terms ‘personal trainer’ and ‘athletic trainer’ and might be wondering how the two differ. Personal trainers are professionals who work with individuals to help them meet specific fitness goals. They work in various settings such as exercise clubs, fitness clubs, and wellness centers. In contrast, athletic trainers are allied health professionals who work under the supervision of a physician to prevent, diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate injuries. These professionals are found in high school settings, collegiate settings, professional sports, hospitals, clinics, the military, and in performing arts venues.

To learn more about degree offerings in Kinesiology and Athletic Training Education within the School of Kinesiology at George Mason University, please visit the program websites.