There are different types of exercise and there are various reasons why they are all important for your fitness and health. We know exercise matters for weight management, but it is also a critical component to heart health, managing hormones and blood sugar levels, improving immune function, and preventing cancer. Now a new study shows that exercise is a critical component of cancer recovery as well.

Cancer survivors were given individually tailored exercise plans including cardiovascular, endurance, strength and flexibility training. After 12 weeks, the researchers discovered that a large portion of the T cells associated with the cancer were transformed from unhealthy to healthy by virtue of the exercise regime. At the same time, it created a low sugar environment that discouraged the growth and spread of cancer cells. So let’s look at the different types of exercise and how to create an effective fitness plan incorporating all of them.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Activity to the point that we start breathing harder, heavily, or maybe even lose our breath may seem intimidating if you don’t do it regularly, but raising your heart rate, as happens during cardiovascular exercise, is important: it enables the body to burn more fat and calories, reduces inflammation, helps the body remove waste, and it enables oxygen and nutrients to be more readily delivered to body tissues. Cardiovascular activity helps manage stress by lowering cortisol levels, which can make you feel better and reduce inflammation.

Cardiovascular exercise is good for your body on many levels but people either love or hate it. For some, it’s because it feels uncomfortable and we spend most of our lives trying to avoid being uncomfortable. (Plus it’s hard not to measure effort against others — be it in the gym or on tv — and feel discouraged if we have not led an active lifestyle.) Others become addicted to the feeling, or to the challenge of setting cardio training goals such as triathalons, road races, or cycling “centuries.”

But regardless of where you begin, all that really matters is that you start. And that you continue. Gradually over time you’ll increase your efforts and see more and more results.

Strength Training

Research now confirms that strength training is not just important to slow bone loss, it can actually add bone. Strength training creates a stimulus for new bone growth that is a treatment as well as a preventive for osteoporosis.

And since we know that muscles burn more calories than fat, being leaner and more muscular can help you with your weight goals as well.

You don’t need to go to a gym or lift weights, though both can help if you don’t know where or how to start. Functional body movements, like those you would naturally do each day in the times of old, like lifts and squats and push-ups are very effective strength builders. I love using the weight of the body as resistance for increasing muscle strength; it’s more natural to me than bands, balls or dumbbells. But you can also be creative and arm wrestle your kids, pump food cans like arm weights, carry your own grocery bags, or work on your core through pilates, power yoga or ballet.

Flexibility Matters

A good stretch after a work out feels amazing: we are instantly rejuvenated and energized. It releases muscle tension, prevents contractions, and can help prevent injury. But even if the workout came earlier in the day or it was a rest day, stretching still feels great and it increases the temperature of the body’s tissues, which will increase circulation and improve the transportation of nutrients.

Eastern medicine teaches that tension prevents healing and blocks our energy and that our tension gets stored in certain spots in our bodies: just like a good massage, stretching can release that energy and unblock our muscles, our stress, and our minds.

There are number of structured programs such as yoga, chi gong or tai chi that can help you improve your flexibility and stretch open your body and your mind.

But you can also just put on comfortable clothes and lie down on the floor listening to music or your favorite tv show before bed and just relax and deeply stretch each area of your body, feeling your muscles lengthen and the oxygen and energy flowing freely.
Breathing to Improve Health
Breathing has been shown to lower your blood pressure as effectively as most medicines. Breathing regulates your autonomic nervous system, which impacts your immune system and can impact hormonal balance, kidney function, and bowel dysfunction in addition to regulating your high blood pressure.

One of the major benefits of exercise is bringing oxygen into the muscle tissues. If you breath deeply into the muscle while you are exercising, whether it is during a cardio, strength or flexibility workout, you can enhance the benefit.

If you cannot exercise because time prevents, deep breathing into the area you wish to direct oxygen is proven to have an impact. So while you are stuck in traffic or on the train, breath deeply into your key muscle areas, flexing and releasing or imagine them going through your favorite workout routine and you can still have some of the benefits you would have received had you actually exercised them.


Ok, so we know we need three kinds of exercise: something to get our heart rates up, something to build lean muscle and body strength, and something to elongate muscles and release blockages. A good exercise plan also needs to factor in the FITTER guidelines: Frequency, Intensity, Type, Time, and Rate of Progression.

Frequency simply refers to how often you will do it. Let’s say you are already fit and active, you may want to make a plan to exercise 5-6 times a week for 60 minutes at a time. If you are just beginning, your frequency may be more like 20- 30 minutes 3-4 times a week. The key is to decide this in advance and lay out your work out plan for each week in advance.

Intensity refers to how hard you will work, or how high you will raise your heart rate.

Steady state lower intensity endurance training lays a foundation for fitness that enables you to build upon it without injury. Longer exercise duration also means more calories burned overall so it is an important component to fitness training. Interval training will improve cardiovascular capabilities and is also shown to burn more fat, so integrating interval training into your cardio will maximize health (and weight loss) benefits.

You can and should vary your intensity depending on your goals and your fitness level. Some workouts should be geared more toward endurance and building strength in your activity, while others should be chosen specifically as interval sessions designed to maximize your cardiovascular output. You will want to include both endurance and interval training over time.

Type is simply what type of exercise you’ll engage in: running versus walking, outdoor vs. indoor, flexibility vs. strength vs. flexibility. Varying the type will enhance the benefits to your body by challenging your muscles in new and different ways, and will keep you from getting bored.

Time refers to how long you will exercise. Research now shows that an hour a day is necessary for mature women to maintain their weight levels due to slowing metabolism. The USDA also recommends 60 minutes of exercise a day for all. The 60 minutes does not have to be completed in one session, so you can break it into smaller workouts if that fits better into your day, but the goal should be to work your way up to an hour of rigorous exercise a day.

Rate of Progression references the fact that as you do something your body will adapt to it. So over time, you need to continually change your workout plan and make it different by incorporating new elements, making it longer, or making it more intense. If you have never lifted weights and you lift a 10-pound weight for a set of 12 repetitions 3 sets in a row, your arm will be sore the first time you do it. If you continue to do that same workout, over the coming days and weeks it will no longer be uncomfortable and eventually, it will be easy. Your body has adapted to that stress and is now able to handle it and respond. If you want to get stronger, you will need to vary the exercise you are doing, the weight you are lifting or the number of repetitions you are doing.

The same is true for cardiovascular exercise. If you are a beginning walker, it may be hard at first. But over time it will get easier, and you’ll want to walk longer or faster. If you take the same indoor cycling class over and over, your body will adapt. So you need to either ride more classes, ride longer classes, or change the way you work within the classes you are taking, making some endurance and others interval classes.

This also holds true for walking or running or playing golf or any activity: vary the intensity levels, the terrain, the duration of the workout or the frequency, or cross train and mix in other activities into your plan if you want to continue to improve your fitness.

It is easy to measure most of those changes with your watch, your calendar, or your map, but intensity level can be harder to assess. Should you go purely by how it feels? Or do you need a heart rate monitor to guide you?

Heart Rate Monitors

Heart rate monitors can be great training tools, but most people don’t use them effectively. If you have a medical condition and your doctor has told you not to go beyond a certain heart rate, they are very helpful in allowing you to monitor where you are more precisely. For most people, though, heart rate monitors are meant to be a guide for training, not an absolute.

There a number of concerns around using heart rate monitors that go back to the formula that is used to calculate optimal heart rate ranges. Some people have used the 220-your age method to establish max heart rate. This formula was never intended for use in the broad population; it was created for specific use with cardiac rehab patients.

The flaw with this is obvious as it implies that everyone at the same age has the same heart capacity, regardless of their fitness level, their weight, or their medical conditions. Lance Armstrong is no different than any other person of his age under this calculation. I don’t know about you, but even at his age, I would not have wanted to go up against his numbers! It also says that triathaletes are in the same place as beginning walkers, and we know that is simply not true.

Another popular approach is to determine your target heart rate using the Karvonen method. This formula asks you to determine your resting heart rate by taking your pulse for a minute when you awaken in the morning. They suggest doing it three times/days and averaging the three numbers together.

But your true resting heart rate is the rate when your body truly is at rest, or at sleep. Once you wake up, a surge of energy flows through your body and your heart rate will be raised a little if you awaken naturally or a lot if your alarm goes off. So the number you get is likely higher than your actual resting heart rate truly is.

Then you take your age from 220 as discussed, which leaves you with a one size fits all number that is likely off by 10-30 beats per minute. From that number, you subtract the resting heart rate you took in the morning, which is likely overstated, to get your heart rate reserve.

Then they suggest that you use 60% as a low end and 80% as a high-end number and you multiply them by your heart rate reserve to get your low and high-end heart rate ranges, which you then average to find your target. But as you can see, at each step in the process, the numbers could be flawed. So this process can give you a guide, but it can – and often is – significantly off.

Follow your Heart

I often see people working until they reach the number they think is their max and then staying there, even if it feels comfortable. It is a concern because your fitness level is constantly evolving and your goal is to continually improve your max heart rate over time. Last year’s numbers shouldn’t be your guide this year because you – and your fitness level – do not stay the same. Another problem is that the number may not be accurate and I see people simply stop when they get there regardless of how it feels because they think they should stop and not exceed that number.

If you are feeling good that day and you reach what you think is near your max (and you do not have a medical condition preventing such), that’s a time to push past and work a little harder. On the other hand, if you start working out and your mid range is feeling really hard, your body may be fighting something or you may need rest and that day, your max may be much lower and you need to honor that and listen to your body.

Instead of allowing the monitor to rule your workout, let it be your guide. If you decide to use a heart rate monitor, exercise at what feels like an easy comfortable pace and see where your numbers are. Take it up to moderate or medium and record your rate. And finally, take it up to what feels like really hard work to you and see where it leads you.

Do that three times, on different days, and you will have a good range for easy, medium and hard efforts. Let those be the numbers you shoot for in your workouts. And on days where you can get to hard and it feels good, let that be a day to push past. When your body is resisting your medium workout, dial it back and keep it at an easier pace that day.

Working out in all zones is beneficial to the body and listening to your body on each given day will make your heart rate monitor work more effectively for you than following a formula can. Using how you feel (easy, medium, and hard on any given day) can be just as effective for many people as using a monitor. So whether you use a monitor or not, don’t be ruled by numbers, follow your heart.

(And as always, please consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program!)

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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