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Quality and Quantity(Q2)

An exercise routine should meet 2 major goals. One, improve and maintain the quality of life, and two, extend life expectancy. Life expectancy is obvious to quantify, although our efforts to live longer may prove beneficial, we will not know until we get there. Quantification of quality of life is challenged by the lack of specific measurables. It is a combination of fulfilling relationships, activities, and the happiness, satisfaction, pleasure, or reward of the activities and relationships. The direct link of quality of life to exercise is that regular physical activity is more likely to predict optimal energy, enhance physical stamina, improve mood, enhance stress resilience, and minimize muscle and joint pain when performed correctly. The desired achievement is to be an active participant in life for as long as possible. An active lifestyle in your 50’s will more likely predict an active lifestyle into your 80’s, but will require some planning and effort early in life. Compared to quality of life, physical fitness can be quantified by strength and cardiovascular fitness tools. Individualized goals are easily set based on the research and the available tools.

How much exercise do I need?

The first thing to appreciate is that studies show 150 minutes per week(30 minutes 5 days/week) leads to a 30% reduction in overall mortality. The majority of studies indicate these benefits occur even when exercise habits are adopted later in life. So even if you missed an opportunity in your 30-50’s you still have a chance to benefit from regular physical activity during your 50-80’s.

Cardio or Weights?

The benefits of physical activity can be divided into 2 types. The first is cardiovascular fitness and the second, strength. The goal or desire to be stronger is a worthy goal. Having said that, muscle mass does not always equate to greater longevity, but stronger(sometimes bigger) muscles lead to more strength and ability to exercise efficiently. Respective of all body types, muscle strength, NOT muscle mass, should be the goal. 

Cardiovascular fitness, as measured by VO2 max or METS, provides a measurable that predicts longevity more accurately than muscle strength, but a balance of both strength and cardiovascular fitness together is still better. To appreciate the contribution of exercise to longevity consider that the absence of regular exercise has a greater impact on longevity than quitting smoking. In other words smoking, which we judge to be really bad for you, is not nearly as bad as not regularly exercising. 

Combat aging with exercise!

Aging results in a rapid increase in morbidity and mortality risk as fitness levels decline with age. In other words physical fitness and activity become absolutely necessary to slow aging and reduce the risk of dying. If you want to be active when you’re 80 years old you can’t afford to be stagnant when you are 50 years old. What is of great interest is when low average activity individuals begin to exercise and become below average in activity, results indicate a 50% reduction in mortality over one decade. For those who progress from low fitness levels to above average, results indicate a 60-70% reduction in mortality. The good news is starting from the bottom produces greater returns. It doesn’t matter where or when you start physical activity, just that you do.

Exercise Guidelines

If you were a professional athlete, physically fit would mean being able to perform at the level of other athletes within the same event and your exercise program would be designed to support that purpose. Since most of us are not training to be elite athletes, our needs are much different. You can use the exercise guidelines below to design your own routine that supports your needs.

Physically fit for most of us should at minimum allow us to continue in our daily activities of personal care, family activities, employment requirements, and personal hobbies with ease, freedom from pain, and without physical exhaustion. When an exercise routine is performed consistently over time, we receive the benefit now and it will continue well into the future.  In addition, a personalized exercise program will help you overcome the effects of genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices that might normally rob you of your independence. It should be noted, except for elite athletes, the basic level of physical fitness required for daily living is also adequate for those occasional activities like water skiing, hiking, and biking. You don’t have to train like an athlete, so you can, now and then, act like one.

Let us simplify this even more by breaking up physical fitness into four elements: flexibility, muscular strength/endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and body composition (body fat). Your goal would be to design a personal program of activity that incorporates all four elements. Doing so will guarantee a balanced program that will bring short term and long term results in the most timely and efficient manner possible.


Flexibility will bring more benefit to an exercise program than any other component. Proper flexibility can alleviate and eliminate joint or muscular pain, increase physical abilities, improve recovery from strenuous activity, and improve efficient and safe participation in all physical activities. Every joint is designed to have opposing or balancing forces. Increasing the flexibility of the muscles can eliminate pain by creating better balance between opposing muscle groups. As the joint works more orderly, less stress and strain is placed on the joint and muscles, pain is relieved, and abilities improved.

Flexibility exercises applied following an exercise routine will dramatically improve recovery time. When we exercise at high intensity, our bodies switch into anaerobic mode, which means we are producing energy without oxygen being present. A by-product of this process is lactic acid, which is thought to be one of the causes of muscle soreness experienced in the days following our routine. While helping the muscles to relax, proper breathing technique can also help the body remove the lactic acid built up particularly following weight-bearing routines. Stretching following exercise, applied with good breathing techniques during your workouts, will also help you avoid feeling sore.

Muscular Strength and Endurance

Muscular strength is the ability of a muscle to perform a strenuous activity for a short period of time. It is through a process of resistance training either with your body weight or hand held weights for added resistance. Generally someone seeking to increase muscular strength will do fewer repetitions with increasing weight. Most resistance programs using body weight, free weights, or machines will improve muscular endurance and strength simultaneously.

Muscular endurance implies the ability of a muscle to sustain an amount of activity for a longer than normal duration of time. It can be likened to having stamina. Muscular endurance can be gained through both resistance and cardiovascular training. It comes as the result of repetitive, but mild stress on the muscles. Most physical activities will increase muscle endurance if done consistently.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardiovascular fitness deals with the symbiotic relationship of the muscles, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. As we inhale, the lungs deliver fresh oxygen to the arteries. The heart pumps the blood through the arteries, which deliver the freshly oxygenated blood to the muscles. The muscles use the oxygen to form Adenosine-Triphosphate (ATP), which through other mechanisms causes muscles to contract. The muscles release a by-product, carbon dioxide, which is delivered via the veins back to the lungs to be exhaled, and the cycle begins again as we inhale. When this system of oxygen delivery works efficiently, we have cardiovascular fitness. We are able to do physically demanding activities and recover in a timely and efficient manner. Cardiovascular fitness improves by doing slow and mildly strenuous activities like jogging, swimming, or bicycling. The same benefit can be received by applying Yoga style breathing while doing any activity, including weight training.

Body Composition

Body composition is a percentage of the amount of fat to lean body tissue you have. Lean body tissue is composed mostly of bone and muscle. Everyone should strive to be in a healthy zone of body composition. For men, a healthy zone is 10-20 percent of body fat. For women, the goal is 15-25 percent body fat. These percentages are achievable and dramatically lower your risk for numerous diseases. Numerous methods exist for measuring percent body fat including fat calipers, bioelectric impedance (scales and hand held units), and hydrostatic weighing to name a few. There are also a number of mathematical scales that utilize height, weight, and circumference measurements to determine body fat percentage. 

Body Mass Index (BMI) is yet another viable and easy method of determining if you have a healthy body composition. Your goal BMI should be less than 25.  A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered “overweight”, and greater or equal to 30 is considered “obese.” A program combining exercise and appropriate dietary guidelines to decrease body fat or BMI will also provide the added benefit of a more toned, shapely, and energetic body.

BMI Index

Body mass index chart for adults.

Design Your Program

To get started, design a strength training program that will build muscular strength and endurance 3 days a week. You can create a program of weight training with machines, free weights, or a combination. In addition, any program consisting of Tai Chi, Yoga, and Pilates would also fill this need. On the other days, set aside at least 30 minutes to perform a cardiovascular activity like walking, bicycling, swimming, or any other activity that you enjoy that will elevate your heart rate as you participate. Spend at least 10-15 minutes each day (following physical activity) to stretch, focusing on stretching every joint and major muscle in the body.