8. Love Your Muscles

The human body is an amazing machine, and muscles are a large part of what drives it. There are about 650 muscles in the body, and they provide all kinds of support and propulsion. The skeletal muscles, in conjunction with tendons and ligaments, support the body’s frame and give it shape; smooth muscles line body organs; and cardiac muscles pump the heart. Muscles are at work constantly to adjust your posture, move your body parts, keep you upright, operate certain bodily functions, and generate heat in your body.

Skeletal muscles work in pairs so that when you move, one contracts and another relaxes. This way, all the parts that need to bend can also return to their normal position. Muscles need the nutrients and oxygen transported by your blood to keep them functioning; the better your muscles are cared for, the better they perform. And the better they perform—on a regular basis—the more you boost your metabolism.

9. Protect Your Muscles

Done properly, exercise strengthens muscles, helping them to do their job better. If you overwork a muscle group (even without intending to), you can strain and even tear your muscles, which can force you to stop exercising until the muscles heal. To avoid this, treat your muscles with respect. Warm them up, don’t push them too hard, and help strengthen them properly by stretching carefully and thoroughly.

10. Strive to Become a Long, Lean, Metabolism-Boosting Machine

Exercise keeps our bodies and all of their parts working efficiently. When your heart is fit, it beats more strongly but uses less energy to keep pumping. When your muscles are fit, they can lift more and work longer without feeling stress or getting hurt. When your entire body is fit, you burn more calories, sleep better at night, and have a stronger immune system and higher metabolic rate. When you exercise regularly and effectively, your body is lean, sleek, and capable. You’ll need to do 30 minutes of moderate activity daily (which can be broken up into 10-minute sessions) to stay healthy, and three or four high-intensity workouts each week to stay truly fit. The more you exercise, the more calories you burn, and the stronger your heart and muscles are.

11. Up the Amount of General Exercise You Get Daily

General exercise includes any activity that requires the use of muscles, such as walking around the block, doing housework or yard work, and taking the stairs rather than the elevator. A 30-minute walk can make a significant difference, as will any other activities that involve total body movement—and we don’t mean moving your thumb while playing video games or moving your arms while knitting. Move your body to boost your metabolism and to vastly improve your overall health.

12. Increase Your Stamina

Exercises that increase stamina greatly benefit the heart and lungs. These activities require far more exertion than general physical activity and include running, cycling, swimming laps, playing tennis, dancing, in-line skating, and playing handball or racquetball. The goal is to strengthen the heart and lungs by working both at full capacity. If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s a good idea to start slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise you do in a week. As your stamina increases, you’ll find it easier to do more and more. If you’re over forty, it’s also wise to get a physical exam from your doctor before starting any type of stamina-building exercise—just to be on the safe side.

13. Improve Your Strength and Flexibility

Exercises to increase strength and flexibility include weightlifting (whether through the use of free weights or the kind of weight machines found in most gyms) and yoga, Pilates, and similar stretching activities. Maintaining strength, muscle tone, and flexibility is especially important during our middle and senior years, and there are additional benefits as well, such as improving bone density and reducing risk of injury from accidents. Weight-bearing exercises are particularly important for women because they can help prevent the onset of osteoporosis later in life by maintaining bone density before, during, and after menopause. And you don’t have to lift weights until you bulge like Mr. Universe; most health specialists say 30 to 40 minutes of weight training a week is sufficient to maintain optimum health.

Strength-training exercises isolate muscles and muscle groups and build muscular strength and endurance. Improvements in muscular strength cause the body to burn more calories, even at rest. These exercises include weight training, calisthenics, and sometimes activities like yoga or ballet. You stimulate muscle growth by pushing your muscles a bit beyond what they are accustomed to. To strengthen muscles, they must experience resistance, or an opposing force. The terms resistance training and strength training are used interchangeably and simply mean the process (just described) used to produce strength; the term weight training refers to using weight or weights as a form of resistance that produces gains in strength.

14. Choose the Right Exercise

No single physical activity or exercise approach is right for all populations; the needs and abilities of men are different from those of women, just as the needs and abilities of younger people are different from those in their senior years. The goals of regular exercise are also as varied as the individuals who engage in it. Some people exercise to lose weight; others want to increase muscle mass, strength, or endurance. Whatever your personal goal may be, the key to success is perseverance. It may take some trial and error before you find the most satisfying and effective exercise regimen for your individual needs and abilities, but the time spent is well worth it. As any doctor will tell you, exercise is one of the key components to adding many more healthful years to your life.

15. Seek Variety

The fittest bodies and healthiest people get that way due to a variety of types of exercises, such as walking, weightlifting, and yoga or bicycling, swimming, and gardening. The more variety in your exercise program, the more likely it is that your body will increase in strength, endurance, and flexibility—and the less likely it is that you’ll suffer from overuse injuries.

A well-rounded exercise regimen should strengthen muscles, benefit the heart and lungs, and build endurance. For optimum results, alternate weight training, aerobics, and circuit training. Relying on only one form of exercise will not benefit your entire body. For example, weightlifting strengthens your muscles, but you’ll also need some cardiovascular activity, such as aerobics, to benefit your heart and lungs.

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