Is doing just 15 minutes of cardio fine or is it too short? I just started doing cardio for the first time ever and my workouts consist of fast walking. I have always just lifted weights in the gym religiously for about 10 years, but that was a long time ago. I’m 47 years old now and just returned to the gym. I figure 15 minutes of cardio is better than nothing. Am I wrong?
Congratulations! You have already taken the most important step. It’s a difficult thing to make the effort to get back into a fitness routine. As with all procrastination, it always seems it can wait one more day so kudos for getting started. The 15 minutes of fast walking you are beginning to do is not only fine but is exactly what I would recommend. After a long layoff, many of our muscles have become weaker and the ligaments and tendons we use for exercise are no longer accustomed to handling the stress of exercise. This is especially true as we get up in years as our connective tissue loses some of its elasticity and our muscles are much quicker to atrophy (a decrease in mass and strength) during a lay off. In fact, I recommend to persons of all ages that are either just beginning a fitness routine or coming back from a prolonged layoff to spend roughly 6 weeks simply getting their body ready to start working out again.
What is meant by this? Well, exercise is simply a voluntary stress applied to the body to facilitate the body’s response to rebuild itself stronger to handle this demand. To prepare the body for this added demand we are placing on it there are many things we can do during this 6 week period to ensure the body will be receptive to our demands. Far too often we see someone who is gung-ho to dive right into a program that is simply too much for their body and they end up suffering a host of small or large stress injuries. Many of these people then assume that exercise just isn’t for them and sadly they end up quitting. This is a sad and common occurrence that can generally be avoided simply by taking things slowly and ensuring we take care during this preparatory phase. Below are a few suggestions to incorporate into your daily routine that will help you greatly as you get started.
So often overlooked yet so crucial is to get into the habit of stretching. This habit is important for people of all ages but especially so as we age. As we exercise, the muscles, tendons and ligaments are being compressed and stretched. Improving their capacity to do so by improving their elasticity is crucial. Just as with starting an exercise program, a stretching routine should be taken slowly. It is also highly recommended that this be done when the muscles are warm. Some small stretching can be done to limber up a bit before exercise but the majority of it should be done either after exercise or after a warm shower.
Different people need different amounts of rest, so giving an exact quantity of rest would require a highly individualized answer. Whether you feel great from 5 hours of sleep or 9 hours of sleep, only you can answer this but what is important is that it is consistent. It is equally important to take days off especially when you begin to increase the workload in your workouts. It’s often said that your days off are equal to or even more important than the days you workout because those days of rest is when your body is repairing and building itself stronger to handle the demands you are placing on it.
As you begin to exert more energy throughout the day your body will need a greater amount of nutrients to function at its optimal level. Notice that I didn’t say it necessarily needs more food but more nutrients. This means eating more complete, balanced and nutrient dense foods. 1,000 calories of fast food and a 1,000 calories of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables is essentially the same amount of food but with vastly differing amounts of those crucial nutrients your body needs to perform optimally. You can see the difference by recording your food intake with ShapeFit’s free diet journal which will provide instance feedback so you can see how much you’re really eating and drinking each day.
We are mostly water. It’s funny when stated this way but nonetheless true. Because we are composed of approximately 60% water it makes sense that nearly every metabolic process in the body is dependent on water. So as we increase our metabolic output through exercise it follows that our need for water increases proportionately. A minimum of 2-3 liters a day is a good place to start.
One of the better habits you can get into is planning when you are going to exercise. Sounds simple enough when life is calm but when it gets busy it is very easy to skip our daily workouts in order to do something more “important”. So get in the habit of looking over your week and setting up a schedule that includes your daily workout, stretching, etc. If at all possible try to do it in the morning, before the day has the chance to steal your time with emails, phone calls, kids and appointments. A good workout in the morning will also leave you feeling great the rest of the day.
Another part of the planning process is planning to slowly increase the workload during your workouts. For example, if you are currently walking at a fast pace for 15 minutes, plan to increase this by 10 minutes every couple of weeks or so. You can also add in walking up some hills or add in 1 minute of light jogging every 5 minutes between your walks or you can even carry some light hand weights while you walk. The idea is to add small increases in the workload, so get creative with it.
Patience in this case is synonymous with persistence and consistency. You need to incorporate this new activity level into your life until it becomes habit. It truly is a lifelong commitment so the power resides in simply sticking with it. Best of luck!