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Fitness guide: exercise fundamentals you need to know

Moderate activity helps preserve your body's functions for longer, so find out what you need to do with our fitness guide to starting exercise.

Adults exercising for fitness in park
Mature couple exercising in the park

Sports science distinguishes three aspects

  • Stamina - staying power. Aerobic exercise increases the speed at which your body uses up air to release energy. Not only can you work harder for longer, but you recover more quickly when you rest. You get more enjoyment from the exercise, accomplish more, improve your appetite and sleep and keep trimmer. Even better, your heart and lungs are kept younger for much longer as a result of regular aerobic exercise.
  • Strength - muscle force. The more you use a muscle the stronger it gets. This is why weight-lifters 'pump iron'. It's never good to let muscles weaken from lack of use. Well-used muscles deter injury and back problems, maintain good posture and keep your bones strong.
  • Suppleness - flexibility. Muscles and joints keep supple if they are moved regularly through their full range. Steady, regular aerobic activity therefore repays big dividends to people wanting to live well. Your heart, lungs, muscles, posture, bones, trimness, appetite and sleep all benefit.

Ten minutes is all it takes 

There's really good news for those of us who find exercise a bit of a chore. Regularity counts for more than duration. Scientists at America's space agency NASA worked out that 10 minutes of sustained moderate exertion three times a week is enough to keep an astronaut (and therefore you) in reasonable shape.

This amount won't increase your stamina but it won't let it slip away, either. And it's enough to keep your heart and lungs reasonably efficient. However, to regain lost stamina you need at least 20 minutes each time, without a break, working hard enough to warm you up and make talking an effort.

Further benefit kicks in at 20 minutes, so prolonging each spell up to half an hour is a useful step. To resume a very physical sport, you will need eventually to work up stamina and strength to appropriate levels for your game.

Leave the car behind

You can start to improve your fitness by doing things a little differently every day: small steps help a lot and you'll hardly notice the effort involved after a while.

  • walk or cycle to the shops
  • leave your car at the furthest end of the car park
  • use the stairs instead of the lift
  • rely less on power tools in the garden or shed
  • don't wait ages for a bus - walk on to the next stop

Build up slowly to take part in a sport

The above provides an essential minimum, on which you will need to build further to encompass any sport you are keen on but, first, you need to get back into condition.

Once you can comfortably sustain an appropriate form of basic exercise for an hour or so, a coach or trainer will be glad to supervise your return to match strength and fitness.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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