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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


June 10, 2014

Fitness
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Learn The Basics
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
htmFitnessFAQs
Have a question about fitness? So do many other people. Find all of the answers here.
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InteliHealth
2011-02-21
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InteliHealth/Harvard Medical Content
2013-02-21

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

When is the best time to exercise?
There is no evidence that the particular time of day you exercise affects the benefits of your workout. Just find time that you can set aside each day. Whether this is in the morning, on your lunch break or later in the day is irrelevant.

 

How much exercise does a person need?
It is best to make time for the three main components of exercise:
  • Resistance training (strength training)
  • Aerobic activity
  • Stretching and flexibility exercises
At a minimum, you should incorporate resistance (strength) training twice a week. This need not be very time consuming; you can work all of the major muscle groups in 20 to 40 minutes. As for aerobic activity, aim for 30 minutes seven days a week at a moderate pace. Finally, when cooling down after aerobic activity, set aside a few minutes for gentle stretching to improve your flexibility and decrease your chance of injury.

 

Is exercise good for spot reducing (that is, losing weight from a specific part of the body)?
No. You lose weight by burning more calories than you consume. Resistance training (strength training) can firm up the muscles in a specific body part, but you will not lose weight in that area. There are significant benefits to firming up, though. In addition to increasing your strength, the added muscle mass will help you burn calories, even at rest. So you'll lose weight, and you'll be left with muscles that are toned and strong.

 

Should resistance (strength) training be part of an exercise regimen?
Yes. Think of your muscles as a series of engines that burn fuel efficiently. If you're trying to lose weight, added muscle will help burn calories more rapidly than fat does, even when you're not exercising. Resistance training also improves strength, which can help you perform daily activities, such as lifting grocery bags or shoveling snow. In addition, studies show that resistance training has a greater effect on self-image than does aerobic exercise.

 

Will a woman bulk up from weightlifting?
Most women do not have the hormonal makeup necessary to develop bulky muscles through resistance training (strength training). You may notice some increase in size as the number and diameter of your muscle fibers increase. But muscle is leaner than fat, so you should appear leaner overall.

 

How rapidly can someone safely lose weight?
It's safe to lose about one-half to two pounds per week. When beginning an exercise program, you may see an initial loss of more than this, but it will quickly level out. More rapid weight loss may indicate a loss of lean body mass (muscle), which should not be the goal of any exercise program; lean body mass is "good" weight — it burns calories. Also, drastic, rapid weight loss is difficult to sustain long term.

 

Is it good to be sore after a workout?
"No pain, no gain" is a motto of the past. Exercise should not be painful, and pain is not a sign of a good workout. You may experience some soreness for a day or two after beginning a new activity, but this should not be a regular occurrence. Persistent discomfort may be an indication that you're increasing your activity levels or weight resistance too rapidly. Aim for no more than a 10 percent increase each week.

 

What are the signs and symptoms of exercising too much?
There are several signs and symptoms that accompany overtraining. These include:
  • Decreased performance
  • Feelings of fatigue, even after a day of rest
  • Depression, anxiety or another mood disturbance
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • More injuries than usual, with a longer recovery period
  • Loss of appetite

 

What is the best way to prevent injuries?
You can take several steps to decrease your chance of getting injured during exercise:
  • Listen to your body. It will usually tell you if something is not right, through either pain or fatigue.
  • Get rest. Depending on your level of fitness and activity, a day or two off per week may be advisable. Fatigue increases your chance of getting injured; rest helps the body recover and perform better when you next exercise.
  • Don't overtrain. Don't increase your workout (in either weight training or aerobic exercise) by more than 10 percent per week, particularly if you have been fairly sedentary. In addition to staving off injuries, this will help prevent burnout.
  • Cross train. Participating in a variety of activities helps to stress different muscles or stress your muscles in different ways. Cross training (for example, alternating running, rollerblading, swimming, volleyball and so on) makes you less likely to develop overuse injuries.
  • Use good, safe equipment. Make sure that the equipment you use is not faulty or worn. And remember that helmets and padding protect you only if you wear them.
  • Get instruction. If you are trying out a new activity or a new piece of equipment, ask a qualified person to instruct you or get a reference book that can help.

 

What should children do to participate in sports safely?
As more children participate in sports and, frequently, play only one sport year-round (in indoor leagues, summer leagues, etc.), the risk of injury increases. Here are some steps you can take to prevent injuries in your child:
  • Encourage your child to take some time off from his or her chosen sport. This may mean not playing any sports for part of the year or playing different sports in different seasons. Different sports stress different sets of muscles, reducing the risk of an overuse injury.
  • Make sure your child uses properly fitted safety equipment (mouth guard, helmet, etc.).
  • Make sure the coach or supervisor of the activity has all necessary qualifications, including certification in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • If your child is competing against other children, make sure there's not a large difference in size between him or her and the others. Most athletic leagues are dictated by age, not height or weight, so there may be a 20-pound or six-inch difference between children who compete against each other.
  • If your child is taking any prescription drugs, make sure the coach or activity supervisor is aware of it. And make sure this person knows about any allergies your child has.
  • Watch your child's performance and be aware of his or her mood. A change in performance or a shift in mood may indicate fatigue or an injury that your child doesn't want to reveal.

 

Is it good to exercise through pain?
No. Pain is the body's way of communicating that something is wrong. When you ignore pain, your injury won't improve, and it may become more severe. The injury may begin to affect your performance not only in sports and exercise, but in your daily life as well.

 

What is the best way to stay in shape while recovering from an injury?
There may be activities that won't aggravate your injury, depending on what your injury is, and will allow the recovery process to continue. Swimming is often a good alternative to other aerobic activities because it involves no impact. You can even try resistance (strength) training; just work out the parts of the body unaffected by the injury. For example, if you have a shoulder injury, you can still do many lower-body exercises to maintain strength.

 

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