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Start off your new lifestyle with a bang by learning the most up-to-date physical activity recommendations needed to achieve greater aerobic endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility!  One of the strongest predictors of heart health is the amount of time spent sitting. Even if you do not have the chance to meet the physical activity guidelines described below, make sure everyone in the family minimizes how much time is spent sitting. Even periodic breaks during the work and school day can make a difference. See Print Resources for examples of exercises and stretches.

Before you begin, make sure to become familiar with the following fitness terms.

Mode: type of activity (e.g. walking, cycling, crunches, arm curls, etc.)
Frequency: number of times you exercise every week
Duration: time you spend exercising in a single session
Repetition: a full exercise movement from starting position, through the range of motion, and back to the starting position (see the example of a squat repetition below)
Set: group of repetitions followed by a break
Intensity: difficulty of an exercise (see table and pyramid below)

Aerobic Endurance

Aerobic endurance is the ability to perform activities that use multiple muscle groups for prolonged durations.  In order to improve aerobic endurance and make your heart stronger, one must perform aerobic or cardiovascular (cardio) activities on a regular basis.  Examples of this type of exercise include: walking, swimming, biking.

Before and After You Perform Aerobic Exercise

  • Warm-up.  Start all exercise sessions with 5 – 10 minutes of low intensity aerobic exercise.  For example, if you plan to go on a brisk walk, then warm up at a comfortable and slower walking pace.  This will help get the heart pumping and decrease the risk for injury.  The warm up does NOT count as part of the 20 – 30 minute recommendation.
  • Cool-down.  When you are done working out, make sure to spend 5 minutes doing light activity similar to the warm-up.  This will help safely slow the heart rate back to resting levels.  If you stop exercise without cooling down, you are more likely to get dizzy or lightheaded.  The cool-down should also include stretching to help relax the muscles.  Stretching will increase flexibility and decrease the chance of developing muscle soreness in the next couple of days.

Recommendations for Improving Aerobic Endurance in the Healthy Adult

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  • Alternatively, you can perform 20 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise 3 days per week (60 – 75 minutes)
  • Exercise of longer duration and/or higher intensity will lead to greater benefit
  • It should be noted that to lose weight or maintain weight loss of ≥ 30 pounds, 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity may be necessary.
  • Older adults (65 years and older) or adults with chronic conditions (heart disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis) should develop an Activity Plan with a health professional to manage risks and take therapeutic needs into account.  This will maximize the benefits of physical activity and ensure your safety.

Recommendations for Improving Aerobic Endurance in Children and Adolescents

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  • Children and adolescents should exercise at least 3 – 4 days per week, although daily exercise will lead to greater benefit.
  • Children and adolescents who are overweight or physically inactive may not be able to perform 60 minutes of daily exercise. Therefore, gradually increase the frequency and duration of exercise to achieve this goal.

What is my intensity?  

Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE, is a 10 point scale used to estimate exercise intensity.  Your rating is based on how you feel during exercise and takes into account your heart rate, your breathing rate, how much you are sweating, muscle fatigue, etc.  A rating of 0 indicates you are at rest while a rating of 10 indicates that you could not possibly work any harder. Use the table and pyramid below to estimate your level of exertion. Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 20.16.31 Aerobic Exercise Tips  

With busy work schedules, family obligations, and packed weekends, it can often be difficult to meet the physical activity recommendations. Here are some tips to help you incorporate aerobic exercise into your life despite these obligations:

  • Exercise in short bouts.  If 30 minutes is difficult to complete all at once, you can break the 30 minutes into three 10 minute exercise bouts and still reap benefits. As you become more fit, slowly increase your duration to the full 30 minutes.Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 20.16.05
  • Don’t change your schedule to accommodate exercise. If you try to fit exercise into your current schedule, you will be more likely to do it regularly.  For example, it may be easier for you to walk during your lunch hour than to set aside time for exercise after work.
  • Mix it up. Combinations of moderate– and vigorous-intensity physical activity can be used to meet the recommendations. For example, you can walk briskly at moderate intensity for 30 minutes twice per week, and jog at a higher intensity for 20 minutes on two other days.
  • Exercise with the family. Take your spouse, your children, or a friend with you during exercise to add some fun to your routine and to help you stay motivated. This is also a good way to encourage your kids to exercise and introduce them to a healthy lifestyle.

Muscular Strength and Muscular Endurance

Muscular strength is the ability to push, carry, or pull heavy objects.  In order to improve muscular strength, one must perform resistance exercises on a regular basis.  Examples of these types of exercises include: climbing the stairs, lifting weights and performing Power Up in 10 exercises.

Muscular endurance is the ability to push, carry or pull a lighter object multiple times or for long durations.  Although muscular endurance can be improved by completing 12 or more repetitions with a light weight, exercises which improve muscular strength also help improve your muscular endurance!

Before and After you Perform Muscular Strength or Endurance Exercise

  • Warm up. Start all exercise sessions with 5 – 10 minutes of low intensity aerobic exercise.  For each strength training exercise, start by performing 1 – 2 sets at a light weight.  This will help prepare your muscles to lift heavier weights and decrease chance of injury.
  • Cool down. After each workout, stretch each of the muscles you targeted.  This will take 5 – 10 minutes and will help minimize the development of muscle soreness.  See the Recommendations for Flexibility to determine how to maximize the benefits of stretching.

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  • If you can perform more of the recommended repetitions, you should increase weight
  • Wait at least 1-3 minutes between sets that work out the same body part.
  • Muscular strength exercises also improve muscular endurance!

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  • Exercise for youth should be performed to the point of moderate fatigue with good form.  For young children, body weight exercises are sufficient.
  • Children can also perform Power Up in 10 exercises!

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Immediately after a muscular strength session, you should feel tired, but you should NOT feel pain or soreness.  You will know if you are improving if you feel sore 24-48 hours after your exercise session.  This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS.  Delayed onset muscle soreness is an indication that your body was stressed by the workout and is attempting to recover by making your muscles stronger.  You are ready to complete another muscular strength or endurance session when the soreness has gone away.

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  • Recover between workouts. Allow your muscles to rest for at least 2 consecutive days between muscular strength exercises for the same muscle group. For instance, if you workout your shoulders on Monday, wait at least until Wednesday to workout your shoulders again.  But don’t forget those other muscle groups for Tuesday.  During this recovery time, it is also important to provide your body with the fuel to become stronger.  See the nutrition page for recommendations.
  • Alternate exercises. Shorten your workout by rotating two or three exercises that target different muscle groups.  For example, after you perform 1 set of the bicep curls, complete a set of tricep extensions while your biceps are recovering.  Research has shown alternating exercises between sets can increase the total amount of calories you burn in each exercise session. This process of alternating exercises is called “super setting.”  It allows you to complete twice as many exercises in the same amount of time!


Flexibility is the ability to move limbs through a range of motion without pain.  Activities to improve flexibility include stretching or yoga poses.  Aim for a stretching routine that exercises each major muscle group using slow-sustained stretching, also known as static stretching.

Static stretching: holding a position.  It is safe, effective, and it doesn’t require assistance from a partner.  You can perform static stretches while sitting, standing or lying down, which makes them easy to incorporate into every type of workout program. See sample stretches under print resources.

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Recommendations for Flexibility at all Ages Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 19.41.20

  • Stretching is most effective when the muscles are warm
  • Don’t forget to complete the same number of repetitions on both sides of the body.
  • Older adults should plan to stretch everyday.

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References: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
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