ERV (Abbie Smith) has suggested blogging about our fitness activities, and with it being the new year and folks having made resolutions about health and fitness, it seems like a good idea.
This is distinctly aimed at the adults and parents, rather than the middle school or jr. high students I try to write to. Of course, parents, it's an excellent thing for your kids to be active starting yesterday, if not sooner. Doesn't make a lot of difference what it is they do. If it's pick up soccer/football, that's fine. Basketball is great. Running around the yard/track/field is also just fine. If the kids run fast for a little, then walk, then run fast again, that's great, too. No need for the under 13s to worry about extending how long they run at one time.
But, parents, you do really need to be getting activity yourself, and you need to be more particular about what you do. As many of the beginning runners I've coached over the years have said, they want to be running around with their children and grandchildren -- not essentially stuck in a chair for the last 30 years of their life as some of their parents had been. The books* Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. illustrate the point nicely. Imagine a curve representing your fitness/health/capacity for doing stuff, versus your age. It climbs rapidly in your childhood and then works more slowly towards a peak in your 20s or 30s. What happens next is very much in your hands. You can do no exercise, and see a steady decline from that peak towards death over the rest of your life -- spending your last 30 years perhaps below the level at which you could go for walks with your children or grandchildren. Or you can exercise routinely and spend almost the entire rest of your life up at a high level, able to walk with your grandchildren and even run with them. Age does have its say -- you won't be able to run the 20 minute 5k of your 20s and 30s when you're 60. But you'll be able to go cover that 5k in comfort into your 70s.
*They have separate editions for men and for women. My wife and I have both, but there's very little difference. The book has both much good training advice, and, perhaps more importantly, many inspirational examples.
You do need both strength work (Crowley and Lodge recommend 2 days a week) and aerobic exercise (5 hours/week, though you do have to get there from wherever you currently are). I have a lot to learn on doing strength work properly, some (non-running!) injuries have left me with some training issues for strength stuff. Aerobics, I'm more comfortable about.
My preferred aerobic activity is running. For most of the health benefits of aerobic activity, it doesn't matter which one you choose -- getting your pulse up and breaking a sweat gives you the health benefits. One exception, which is a particular concern for women -- but men shouldn't ignore this -- is osteoporosis. You need to do weights, or do weight-bearing aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, that means walking or running, not biking or rowing, and absolutely not swimming. Now the biking, rowing, swimming are all excellent aerobic exercises, so do do them if you like them. But add in some time where your entire body weight is being supported by your own muscles, rather than the bike seat or the water.
Aside from that detail, the best aerobic exercise is the one that you like the most. If you like it more, you'll do it more regularly. And the benefits come from doing it regularly. Similarly, the best time of day to do the exercise is the time of day that you'll be most regular about doing it. I am not a morning person, so even though it would be a good idea to avoid summer afternoon heat, I run in the evenings. A friend is very much a morning person, so does her runs at like 5 AM, which may not be the best idea when it's cold and windy. But that's the time of day she's most likely to run.
Again regardless of which exercise you choose, the benefits come from regular training, not from racing. A friend likens training to putting money into your health bank account. Racing makes a withdrawal. The longer and more difficult the race, the bigger the withdrawal. For this reason, I'm not a fan of people starting their running career by getting off the couch and doing a marathon. You haven't made many deposits into your health account by training regularly for very long, and then make a massive withdrawal. In general (and I've done a marathon, and an ultramarathon myself), if you're doing a marathon, it isn't for your health. So ... think a bit about your purpose in doing it. I have done a couple of these long races, but not for my health.
I do like to use shorter races, anything from 50 meters to 10 miles, as goals to help me have targets for my training. I also like to mix up the distances that I'm training for because the training is a little different for a 5k than a 10 mile. I also mix up whether I'm looking at track, road, or trail/cross-country races. The variety helps avoid boredom. On the other hand, there's no need ever to go to a race. My doctor has been running for over 20 years and never gone to a race. And, even if you do race, there's no reason ever to do a marathon. Get up and do something good for your health, on a regular basis, and you're set.
Most people are most regular about their training if they're meeting up with someone to do it. Finding a friend about your level and interest in your sport is perfect. Or, find a club devoted to the sport you'd like to get going with. For running, that's Road Runners Club of America for nationwide listings. Be choosy about the club you go to -- try them out and see if their attitude fits ok with yours. I'm a member of two clubs. The one, I go to more often when I'm in good training and thinking about racing a lot. The other, I go to regardless. They're less focused on race times and how fast you are. As they describe themselves (ok, I wrote that description when I was the web master): PGRC (Prince George's Running Club) is a bunch of folks who run and walk around. We cover the range from folks just starting out slowly to some who are very fast. New people, regardless of speed or 'seriousness', are always welcome. You're also welcome to come run with us even before you join!. If you're in the Washington, DC area, check them out on the web at PGRC.org. Most areas have multiple clubs, so your chances of meeting up with one that suits your taste is pretty good. And do keep in mind that it is a matter of taste. If you like racing, go with a club that emphasizes that. If you don't like racing, go with a club that doesn't emphasize it. But meet your taste preference.
Abbie encourages us to write about what it is we do, but since I'm not currently doing much running, I'll kind of leave it here. Even though not running, I'm still exercising -- moving to the bike or pool, climbing stairs at work, and walking. The walking, I'll be taking as an opportunity to scope out more routes for me to go run on. Then, when I've fixed up my calf issue, I'll be set for doing many more running routes, with more variety. (And, since I've borrowed my club's measuring wheel, a good knowledge of the distances I'm covering.)