For some people, asking “how much should I exercise?” is the wrong question. In some cases, “should I exercise at all?” or “what exercise is best for me?” are more suitable questions. I will answer the first question by simply responding “yes,” and will address the second question by responding “exercises, plural.” Let me elaborate.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the general exercise recommendations for healthy adults include at least five days per week of moderate intensity aerobic (cardiovascular endurance) activities, weight-bearing exercise, and flexibility exercise (or at least three days per week if the exercise is vigorous); and two to three days per week of muscular strength and endurance (resistance), calisthenics, balance, and agility exercise. This applies to most healthy adults, regardless of age or gender. This means, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, these should be your exercise goals. Quite a lot of exercise, right? But what defines “moderate” and “vigorous” exercise, and how are you meant to pack all of that into one week? Which exercise is best for you?
Well, unfortunately, no single exercise will best provide the physical challenges needed to enhance all aspects of your fitness. Weights/resistance training will improve your strength and musculature, but is not the best option for development of your cardio-respiratory system. Running is great for your heart, but will not improve your flexibility as much as yoga, Pilates or other similar stretching routines will.
It is a common misconception (particularly of women and older individuals) that weight training is “not for them” because they “don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.” That performing resistance exercises will inevitably “bulk you up” is simply not true. Unless you train specifically to gain mass (including consuming the requisite large number of quality calories necessary to promote and sustain muscle growth), you will not develop huge muscles. Instead, you will become strong and toned. Similar to your teeth—you only have to brush those you’d like to keep—muscles work the same way: you only have to exercise those particular muscles you’d like to keep; if you don’t use them, they’ll likely deteriorate. After all, why should your body allocate its valuable resources and energy to a part that isn’t being used? Like any efficient company, departments are downsized if they’re not profitable. So, in short, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should incorporate resistance training into his/her weekly exercise regimen.
Another common misconception (particularly of men) is that flexibility training, such as yoga, is “only for girls.” This is also a fallacy. First of all, yoga is pretty tough if performed correctly. More importantly, though, if one doesn’t train one’s body to extend through a full range of motion, muscles will stiffen and injury will ultimately occur when, inevitably on occasion, one has to perform a physical activity that necessitates a wide movement (picture reaching for something and feeling something “go”). Again, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should incorporate flexibility exercises into his/her weekly routine.
Finally, while some people (often men) strive to become more muscular, focusing primarily on [anaerobic] resistance training, one should not forget to train the cardio-vascular system as well. Yes, working with weights can improve your heart health, but it cannot completely negate the value of pure aerobic exercise. Once again, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, everyone should perform some aerobic exercise at least three times per week.
That being said, some workouts aim to satisfy several requirements of physical fitness development simultaneously, such as resistance circuit training (think of weight training without stopping for long breaks) or power yoga (intense isometric poses that push your muscles to the limit; definitely NOT sitting cross-legged and humming “um”). Be warned, however, while these more extreme training methods can save you time, they’re definitely more intense than a leisurely jog on the treadmill or a walk around the block.
Most of us are, baruch Hashem, reasonably healthy, and so have a wide array of exercises to choose from to maintain and better our wellbeing. Others, though, may currently be unable to perform certain exercises due to poor health, rachmana litzlan. However, this typically does not preclude the performance of ALL exercise for these individuals. Though heavy resistance or high-intensity interval training may be contraindicated in certain instances, training with lighter weights to build muscular endurance, brisk walking to maintain a healthy heart, or gentle stretching to improve balance and flexibility is likely perfectly acceptable and should generally be encouraged. With a little creativity, there are always alternatives and options for those who want to maintain and improve their health.
Most importantly, however, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, whatever you end up choosing, the following two mindsets should always apply:
Progressive Development: always aim to improve, no matter what exercises you choose. If you perform resistance training, increase the weight you lift or the reps/sets you complete; if you stretch, try to increase your range of motion or the amount of time you can hold a difficult pose; if you run or perform another aerobic workout, try to increase the incline or the distance, or keep the incline and distance the same but aim to beat your last time, or try to gradually improve your heart rate response. Every moment you exercise is an opportunity to evolve, to be better today than you were yesterday, to test your limits and realize your true potential.
Prioritize: exercise should not be something you squeeze into your schedule. It should not be a chore to cross off your to-do list. Exercise should be part of your healthy lifestyle, as much as eating meals or learning Torah. We exercise so that we can be strong and continue to serve Hashem with all our abilities. To not do so, I believe, is a repudiation of our true purpose as frum Jews; we must be strong and healthy physically, so that we can be strong and healthy spiritually.
Find exercises you can enjoy (either by yourself or with friends), and perform them as you would any other mitzvah—with love, energy, and passion. Every day is an opportunity to grow stronger, grow wiser, and grow closer to Hashem. Don’t let your excuses shield you from your potential. If you haven’t found any exercises you enjoy, you haven’t finished looking.
Chemmie Sokolic is an ACSM-certified Personal Trainer, and owner of Frum & Fit LLC. Chemmie can be reached at [email protected] Visit www.FrumandFit.com or www.Facebook.com/FrumandFit for more information.
By Chemmie Sokolic