Slow, steady wins race in journey to build better bodies

A member of the military community stretches and strengthens back muscles at an installation fitness facility

FORT LEE, Va. – Anyone can achieve a slimmer and more well-toned figure if they are dedicated to the endeavor and follow some key guidelines to working out and staying fit.

Exercise consistency is, without question, the most critical step in the process. A long-term regimen of combined aerobic and strength-building routines with gradually increasing intensity will result in far more substantial results than extreme, “no-pain-no-gain” fitness measures that are often misperceived as necessary to get the job done.

Furthermore, the drawback of immediately jumping into three-hour-a-day, high intensity workouts is the increased risk of serious injuries including stress fractures, torn tendons and muscle strains that will, at a minimum, interrupt the fitness journey if not bring it to a long-term halt.

Those who haven’t worked out in a while, or ever, should start with lots of stretching followed by low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, slow-pace aerobics and/or lifting light weights. Try to increase time intervals from 30 minutes, three times a week, to 60 minutes five times a week.

Additional tips that may be helpful include the following:

• A favorite choice of many people to get in shape is either walking or running for cardiovascular health. Studies show as little as 10 minutes of moderate intense physical activity can lead to a healthy heart. One study found that 60-to-90 minutes of weekly exercise reduced heart disease risk by up to 50 percent.

• One safe way to transition to full running is starting with 4 minutes of walking followed by 1 minute of running and slowly change the walking and running until you are able to run without walking. People should not get frustrated if they find they can only run for 30 seconds at a time. Exercise is the most important part of working out, not how much anyone accomplishes.

• Strength training is equally important for overall health. It increases testosterone naturally, promotes better sleep and retains muscle mass. For some, free weights can be intimidating so it is recommended to start with bodyweight exercises or machines. Three basic exercises that can make a huge difference in fitness level for anyone just starting out are assisted pull ups, planks and sit squats.

• Assisted pull ups can be done on a machine, with bands or using a TRX strap system. Planks help to keep the core, our main connection between the upper and lower body, tight and ready for all movements. Sit squats are an exercise for patients who have knee pain and are performed by attempting to sit in a chair or bench. Once your gluteus maximus touches the padding, immediately stand back up. For squats, remember to lead with the hips back, heels down and look just over the horizon.

• The weather will still be hot for many weeks ahead. Keep in mind a body needs to adjust to changes in temperature intensity. Most of us live in air conditioned and climate-controlled spaces. When starting out, it’s best to pick a time in the day that is cooler to exercise – early mornings or late night – or take the workout inside. Dress appropriately for the activity, take more breaks when the temperature rises, and you may even have to cut back on the intensity level depending on the activity. In warmer weather, remember to increase fluid intake throughout the day, not just during exercise.

Above all, keep in mind that your road to fitness does not need to be a solo journey. Arrange workout times with your family. Team up with a friend who could inspire you to get up and go. Take advantage of the expert staff and abundance of equipment at the various Fort Lee fitness centers. The Strength Performance Center offers cardiovascular machines, free weights and functional activities to keep people going with variety and challenges for all ages and experience levels. MacLaughlin Fitness Center just reopened with a new spin cycle area off the lobby and a greatly expanded weight room.

The Army Wellness Center is an excellent facility to start documenting your results with body fat mass testing and other assessments available to help one succeed in the ultimate test called life. Don’t forget to consult with your primary health care team as well. They can diagnose issues like high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels that also should be corrected in your journey to better health.