Looking good

You look in every mirror you pass to make sure you haven’t gained any weight. You’re sure that if you lose 10 pounds, all your problem is will go away. You know that the actors and actresses on television and the models in magazines have what seem like “ideal bodies.”

But no one has a “perfect body.” Everyone, however. can look good – and feel good.

Instead of striving for the perfect body, make your goal that of being physically fit. Your image of your body will improve along with your fitness.

Forget the “thin is fit” myth. Thin is not necessarily fit nor ideal. Weight loss is not the most important factor in improving body image.

Physical fitness has more to do with how well you can perform certain physical activities than with how much you weigh. A physically fit person has good endurance, strength, and heart and lung capacity.

The body of a fit person turns fat tissue into muscle tissue. Muscles weigh more than fat because they are denser. Muscles need more calories than fat. As you start getting more muscle tissue, you’ll find you can eat more without gaining weight.

How Do You Get Fit?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends some physical activities every day, and vigorous activities for 20 to 30 minutes three or four times a week. While most teens claim they do an hour a day of physical activity, a 1994 study found that only about 50 percent of the boys and 25 percent of the girls exercise vigorously. One study showed that as teens get older, they exercise less.

You may walk to school every day, but unless you’re doing four to five miles per hour for a half hour, you can’t count it as the kind of vigorous exercise you get with activities such as brisk walking, jogging, basketball, racquet sports, dance, swimming laps, skating, bicycling, strength (resistance) training, and waist training with the best waist cincher. All these activities get you moving quickly and breathing hard for sustained periods of time.

One way to tell if you’re exercising hard enough is to check your target heart rate. To get your target heart rate, subtract your age from 220, and multiply that number by .65 and .85 (example: 220 – 16 = 204 x .65 = 133; 204 x .85 = 173. For a maximum workout that bums fat, your pulse rate should be between those numbers.

Do something you like. Let’s face it, doing something you hate will only encourage you to avoid exercise. Catch up on the latest news while you and a friend jog together. If you’re alone, doing a variety of activities will keep you from getting bored and will exercise different muscles.

Carrie Sowiak, athletic director of The Oxford Club in Denver, Colorado, recommends weight training to increase your percentage of muscle. Muscle tissue demands energy and increases your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories).

Carrie has found that once teens start developing muscle and upper body strength, they don’t worry about losing weight. The muscle definition makes them look better, and they have a new body image.

Be sure you get instruction in weight training. If you don’t use the correct techniques, you can tear or strain your muscles. Carrie recommends a trainer who has a degree in a health - related field and is also certified by an accredited organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine.

Some of your exercises should be aerobic – activities that use a lot of oxygen such as jogging, bicycling, dancing, and swimming. If you haven’t done the activity before, start slowly and build up to longer times and greater distance over a period of weeks. Always start your session with some stretches to give your muscles a chance to warm up, and end with a few minutes of slower exercises and stretches to cool down.

Do, Not Overdo

Avoid the “weekend athlete syndrome,” saving up your daily exercise and spending it all on the weekends. If you do, you’re likely to set yourself up for a sports injury. You’ll want to set up a program that will strengthen you for your chosen weekend activity.

On the other hand, don’t over – do exercise. Some teens decide that more is better and start exercising every spare minute. Soon they’re obsessed with the idea of going longer distances and losing more weight.

Some of the signs that you are overdoing things are weighing yourself every day, or seeing yourself as fat no matter how much you weigh. You need some fat to provide insulation and store energy.

Get Moving

Get off to a good start this school year – get moving.

Exercise is great. A regular exercise program can help you tone muscles and get in shape. You’ll feel better – and look good, too.

Overdoing it with aerobics

Whether you go to an aerobic dance class or work out with Jane Fonda on videotape, if you’re one of the 24 million Americans who participates in aerobic dance programs, you’re on the right track to physical fitness. Aerobic dance programs and other aerobic exercise like walking, running, swimming, and bicycling improve heart and lung function and offer all those other benefits you know by heart: better quality of life, decreased risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, less stress, and more energy.

But (and it’s a big one) you can get too much of a good thing. Injuries associated with excessive amounts of aerobic exercise include stress fractures, shin splints, muscle pain, knee and ankle damage, back and foot problems, and (during hot, humid weather) heat exhaustion. Some people even develop “exercise addiction,” continuing intense programs in spite of chronic fatigue and problems with work or family relationships caused by an unreasonable drive to exercise.

Experts emphasize that benefits of moderate exercise programs far outweigh risks, but they also warn that increasing the amount and intensity beyond moderate levels increases the chance of exercise-related problems. Generally, a session that lasts longer than 45 minutes with the intensity of hard running carries a danger of injury. On the other hand, a session lasting less than 20 minutes has very little positive effect on the cardiovascular system.

High- vs. Low-Impact

In the early 1980s, health problems first noticed in aerobic dance program participants were attributed to the high-impact nature of the exercise: the jolting and pounding that results from having both feet off the floor at the same time. Concrete floors also contributed to stress on joints, as did improper shoes that didn’t give the stability, shock absorption, and flexibility needed. Researchers have since spent time looking for ways to improve aerobic dance facilities, shoes, and choreography to make programs safer without losing cardiovascular benefits.

The challenge was met in other ways, too. Low-impact programs were introduced, in which one foot is always touching the ground. Low-impact aerobics involve less jarring and cause fewer injuries. Still, the exercise are not injury-free. Ankle and knee injuries can nevertheless occur and without proper guidance, you might not get the heart and lung workout you seek.

Move Around

Still, benefits of a good low-impact program can equal those of a high-impact workout if participants use multi-directional, full-body movements. What does this mean? In every session: Move around the room often and change direction frequently; use the large muscle groups in the legs, hips, and back; and use smooth, controlled movements.

Your instructor should always explain each exercise, especially proper position and placement. If you’re not doing a movement correctly, you won’t get the benefits, and you could hurt yourself.

As for the intensity of your workout, one easy way to be sure you’re not exercising too hard is the “talk test.” You should be able to carry on a conversation during your workout. If you’re breathing too hard to do that, your intensity is too high.

Stretching, the Myth

Finally, the myth that injury can be prevented by stretching before exercise has been called into doubt by a study at the University of South Carolina. Researchers found no difference in injury rates among runners who stretched before their workout and those who didn’t. In fact, they found some evidence that improper stretching may even cause pulled or torn muscles. (Competitive athletes in sports such as tennis or volleyball with a lot of stop-and-go and those that require a full range of motion of joints such as gymnastics may still benefit from pre-workout stretching.)

Other studies show that a few minutes of warm-up jogging, walking, or bicycling before exercise sessions prevent injury by helping muscles absorb more force and making them less likely to tear. A gradual cool-down, such as walking after jogging or slow swimming after a tough practice may do more good than post-exercise stretching.

What this all means is you don’t need a “no-pain no-gain” workout to benefit from aerobic exercise. If you work at your own pace and use habits that work for you, you’ll improve your health and fitness–without overdoing it.