1. Understand Your Body’s Need for Exercise

Regular physical activity helps keep your muscles toned and strong, maintains bone strength and density, and improves and maintains your heart and lung functions. Exercise also builds stamina, improves flexibility, boosts your immune system, makes sex more fun, reduces your risk of cancer, improves your reflexes, lowers stress, and benefits your overall physical and mental health. But even more important, exercise is a great way to ensure your metabolism functions at maximum capacity.

Exercise can be divided into three specific types: general activity, activities to build stamina, and exercises to increase strength and flexibility. If you want to age well, maximize your metabolism, and add many more active and vibrant years to your life, it’s important to incorporate all three aspects of exercise into your lifestyle. It’s also highly important that you begin slowly, set realistic goals, and see a doctor before you begin any new regimen. Don’t overdo it, but remember that the harder you’re working, the harder your metabolism is working, too!

2. Understand the Importance of Heart Rates

When you know your resting heart rate, you can make sure you’re reaching your full potential when you exercise. That’s because your pulse, measured in beats per minute, tells you how much effort your heart and body are putting in. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you exercise at aerobic intensity levels of 60 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. But, if you’re new to exercise, we recommend exercising so that your heart rate is 60 percent or less of its maximum potential and progressing gradually into higher levels of intensity so you don’t put too much strain on the heart muscle.

While it may seem that you are only putting in a light effort, you are still benefiting your metabolism by training your cardiovascular system to work more efficiently and by burning calories.

3. Determine Your Heart-Rate Zone

To estimate what your heart rate or pulse should be when you exercise, use this formula:

Subtract your age from 220. For example: If you are forty years old, then the answer is 180. This number is your estimated maximum heart rate in beats per minute.

Now, multiply that number (e.g., 180) by .65 and .85. The two numbers (117 and 153) tell you the range in which your heart rate should be during exercise.

You should spend the majority of your exercise time with your heart rate in the lower part of the range, reaching the higher part of the range only during brief interval sessions. If you’re very fit, you can use a slightly different formula to determine the range of your heart rate during exercise. As a first step, subtract your age from 205, and then do the rest of the calculations described.

4. Monitor Your Heart Rate When You Exercise

When you’re exercising, it’s important to keep track of your heart rate so that you can make sure you’re working out in a range that is maximizing your calorie-burning potential. If you’re not working out on a machine that keeps track of your rate, you can either use a heart rate monitor or two of your fingers.

If you’re measuring manually, place two fingers gently just below the top of the jaw on the side of your neck over your carotid artery or over the radial artery located just where your wrist bends. Count for 15 seconds, then multiply the number of beats you felt by 4 to estimate your beats per minute (bpm). If you’re doing this when you’re at rest, this number represents your approximate resting heart rate.

If you prefer to have a monitor keep track of your heart rate—which is, admittedly, easier when you’re in the middle of a workout—find a heart monitor that includes a strap that goes around your chest and a watch-like device that will allow you to easily read the results.

5. Burn Those Calories

Your body is working all the time: pumping blood, processing food, even thinking. The body’s unit of measurement for the amount of work it’s doing is the calorie. When you sit and think, you burn about a calorie per minute. When you take a walk, your body might burn from 3 to 6 calories a minute. For every liter of oxygen (per kilogram of body weight) you process during aerobic exercise, the body burns 5 calories. The more energy you use, the more oxygen you process, and the more calories you burn. Ideally, you should burn 300 calories or more per exercise session.

Your body’s calorie usage during any given activity is determined by your weight, your fitness level, and the amount of work you’re doing. Because of the difference in the muscle/fat ratio of their bodies, as well as their fitness levels, a slight, older woman burns fewer calories taking a walk than a young, muscular man.

6. Feel Free to Fidget

You probably know a few fidgety people. These people’s bodies simply tell them to move more. They’re always busy, always moving, and rarely sit still. They tap their feet, drum their fingers on the table, and are constantly on the go! It sounds silly, but fidgeting can actually burn between 500 and 1,000 calories per day, about 1 pound per week! So go ahead. Feel free to fidget and watch your metabolic furnace burn up those calories!

7. Exercise Six to Eight Hours a Week

With 168 hours in each week, it really isn’t irrational to suggest that you engage in 6 to 8 hours of deliberate exercise per week. Because of the time spent sleeping, eating, driving, watching television, and sitting at a desk working, most people lead fairly sedentary lives. Exercise vigorously most days of the week and you’ll be more likely to achieve your physical goals. Exercise, by the way, should require you to huff, puff, grunt, and wince. Challenging yourself is how you make progress. If you set aside deliberate time for legitimate exercise and work hard, your body—and your metabolic rate—will respond accordingly.

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