Setting Fitness Goals for Spring

fitness program, vermont cardiologist, dr ades, phil adesBy Philip Ades, MD

Assuming that you are not currently getting regular exercise in the cold of winter, it is important that your fitness goals for the spring be attainable and sustainable.  Most people start with a walking program that can gradually get brisker or tougher, but the key is to clear out your time in a scheduled fashion such that it becomes a habit and a commitment.  It is far more important to be regular with your walking than that your walking becomes more intense.  The return is that you will be fitter, healthier, possibly slimmer and happier.

Creating an Exercise Plan

The frequency, intensity and duration of exercise depend upon your goals.  Most recommend that you gradually build up to five sessions per week of 30 minutes per day. Keep in mind that any exercise is better than no exercise, so it’s up to you to decide how much feels right.  Some people say “you only need to exercise on days that you eat!”  

If you do want to get substantially fitter or faster, you will need to do some higher intensity exercise such as jogging or hill walking, though that is your choice.  Certainly if you get symptoms such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath or joint pains, you should back off and discuss these symptoms with your doctor.

If your goal in exercising is to help you slim down, then you will need to gradually lengthen the duration of your walks and get out almost on a daily basis to maximize the calories that you burn.  While walking burns the most calories per unit time, other useful exercises include cycling, rowing and swimming.  Cross-country skiing is, of course, an excellent exercise but can get very intense on hills.

Variety Counts

The advantage of varying the type of exercise you do, sometimes called “cross training,” is that you don’t overuse one specific set of muscles.  As you get older, this gets more important.  Also important as you get older is to consider strength or resistance training.  From age 40 on, we are slowly losing muscle mass and strength. Strength training can definitely halt that process and maintain strength, which is necessary for daily activities.

Long-Term Benefits

The most common mistake that I see in taking on a training program is to do too much, too fast and not think long-term.  Life is not a sprint; it is a long-distance run.  Think long-term as you maintain your exercise program and you will help:

  • Prevent heart disease
  • Prevent diabetes
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve cholesterol profile
  • Prevent disability
  • Prevent obesity
  • Live longer

Staying Motivated

Another piece of advice is to keep records of your exercise. This can be as simple as putting an “X” on your calendar on days you exercise, or include more detail about the length and intensity of exercise.  To stay motivated with your exercise, consider varying the location of your workouts, as we are fortunate in Vermont to have many beautiful places to walk, hike and cycle. Getting an exercise partner is also useful, as the time passes when chatting and an appointment has to be kept.

Good luck!

Philip Ades, MD, is a cardiologist and director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Preventive Cardiology at Fletcher Allen.