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How to Achieve Optimal Health Through Cardio, Resistance, and Flexibility Training

How much exercise is truly necessary to achieve optimal health?


Cardio, stretching and resistance training

Exercise is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, offering a multitude of benefits for physical and mental well-being. But how much exercise is truly necessary to achieve optimal health? In this evidence-based blog, we'll delve into the industry leaders' recommendations on the amount of exercise needed to be healthy and well-rounded, covering cardio, resistance, and flexibility training. By understanding the basics behind each component, you can tailor your exercise routine to maximize health benefits and overall well-being.



Cardiovascular Exercise


Cardio exercises, running

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, is essential for maintaining a healthy heart and circulatory system. The American Heart Association (AHA) and World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, spread throughout the week.


Moderate-intensity

Activities include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and dancing.

  • During moderate-intensity activities, you should be able to talk but not sing.

  • Generally, moderate-intensity activities will raise your heart rate to about 50-70% of your maximum heart rate (determine your estimated max heart, here)


Vigorous-intensity

Activities include running, aerobic dancing (Zumba), and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

  • When doing vigorous-intensity exercise, you will find it hard to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

  • Generally, vigorous-intensity exercises will increase it to about 70-85% of your maximum heart rate (determine your estimated max heart, here)


Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke, and boost overall mood and mental well-being. If you would like a more in-depth understanding of cardio and its benefits, check out this article.



Resistance Training


Resistance training, also known as strength training or weightlifting, is crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass, bone density, and overall strength and function. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Harvard Health recommend performing resistance training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two days per week with emphasis on the intensity, reps, sets, types of exercise and progression.


Resistance training exercises can include bodyweight exercises, free weights, resistance bands, or weight machines.


Frequency
  • Aim for at least two sessions per week targeting all major muscle groups.

  • Allow for at least one rest day between sessions to allow muscles to recover and adapt.


Intensity
  • Perform each exercise with enough weight or resistance to fatigue your muscles by the end of each set, usually equating to 75-85% of your 1 Rep Max.

  • Use a weight that allows you to complete 6-12 repetitions per set for most exercises.


Sets and Repetitions
  • Aim for 2-3 sets of each exercise.

  • Perform 6-12 repetitions (reps) per set for most exercises to improve muscular strength and endurance.

  • Focus on proper form and technique to maximize effectiveness and reduce the risk of injury.


Types of Exercises
  • Include exercises that target all major muscle groups, such as squats, lunges, chest presses, rows, shoulder presses, and core exercises like planks or crunches.

  • Incorporate a variety of exercises to ensure balanced muscle development and prevent overuse injuries.


Progression
  • Gradually increase the resistance or weight used as your strength improves to continue challenging your muscles.

  • Progression can also be achieved by increasing the number of sets or repetitions, or by incorporating more challenging variations of exercises.

Rest
  • Rest 30s - 2 minutes between exercises, ensuring adequate time to recover and safely perform the next set.

  • Listen to your body.

Regular resistance training can improve muscle strength, enhance metabolism, promote fat loss, and reduce the risk of injuries and falls, particularly in older adults. Check out this article on the benefits of resistance training in adults.


a man weight training


Flexibility Training


Flexibility training, often overlooked but equally important, focuses on improving range of motion and joint mobility. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends incorporating flexibility exercises into your routine at least two to three days per week.


Flexibility exercises can include static stretching, dynamic stretching, yoga, or Pilates.


Static Stretches
  • Static stretching involves holding a stretch in a fixed position for a specific duration, usually between 15 to 60 seconds.

  • Static stretching helps improve flexibility and range of motion by lengthening muscles and tendons. It is often used to improve overall flexibility, reduce muscle tension, and enhance relaxation.

  • Ideally done after exercise


Dynamic Stretches
  • Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body through a full range of motion in a controlled manner, typically in a repetitive fashion.

  • Dynamic stretching helps prepare the body for physical activity by increasing blood flow, heart rate, and body temperature. It also activates the muscles and nervous system,

  • Ideally done before exercise.


Both static and dynamic stretching have their place in a well-rounded fitness routine. I always try to incorporate both types of stretching into my clients' warm-up and cool-down routines to help optimize performance, reduce the risk of injury, and improve overall flexibility and mobility. I also recommend yoga and Pilates for individuals looking for a more challenging and dedicated approach to this form of exercise. Adjust the type and duration of stretching based on your individual needs, goals, and the specific demands of your workout or activity.



What would my week look like?


A common routine I recommend to clients looks something like this:

training and exercise schedule

Cardio

Start with 3 x 30-minute moderate-intensity cardio sessions if you're new to exercise and work your way up to 3 x 50–60-minute moderate-intensity or 3 x 25-minute vigorous-intensity workouts. This way you're able to relax at the Friday braai and have Sunday as a day to recover for the upcoming week. Copy this template from my cardio article to track your progress.


Strength

Start with 2 days of resistance training with at least 1 day in between to allow your muscles to recover and adapt to the new stress you're placing on them. Aim for 2-3 sets per major muscle group, using an intensity that causes muscular fatigue somewhere between 6-12 reps. Incorporate compound movements that target major muscle groups like squats, bench presses, deadlifts and plank variations and ensure your form is correct. Rest 30s - 2 minutes between exercises.


Stretches

I recommend, assuming your goal is overall wellness, incorporating dynamic stretches before both cardio and resistance training and static stretches upon completion of these exercises.

  • Check out this 5 minute full body dynamic warm up video

  • Check out this video on full body static cooldown stretches



Conclusion


Incorporating a well-rounded exercise routine that includes cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility training is essential for achieving optimal health and well-being. By following the recommended guidelines and incorporating evidence-based strategies, you can improve cardiovascular health, build strength and muscle mass, enhance flexibility and mobility, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases and injuries. Remember to consult with a qualified fitness professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have underlying health concerns or medical conditions.


If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at hulettfitess@gmail.com. Take life by the horns and make sure you're giving that body of yours its best shot at a long and healthy life.





 

References


  1. American Heart Association. (2020). Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults

  2. World Health Organization. (2020). WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Retrieved from WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour

  3. American College of Sports Medicine. (2018). ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (11th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). How much physical activity do adults need? Retrieved from How much physical activity do adults need? | Physical Activity | CDC

  5. Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). Resistance training by the numbers. Retrived from Resistance training by the numbers - Harvard Health

  6. American College of Sports Medicine. (2021). Stretching and Flexibility Guidelines Update. Retrieved from Stretching and Flexibility Guidelines Update

  7. American College of Sports Medicine. (2021). ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (11th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.




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