Become Healthier with Healthful Exercise

Keeping yourself healthy should be a priority in your life, even if it isn’t your topmost concern. To accomplish your other life goals, you need a working body and an energetic mind. You have to be able to get up early — the earlier the better — and work with vigor and intelligence throughout the day. You have to be able to enjoy yourself and have fun, spread some cheer in dreary places, build a loving family life, help your friends, make a good living, cultivate a profitable side business, invest in real estate, and more.

In short, to live a full, productive, and happy life, you need to be as healthy as you possibly can be. Since it first occurred to me that health is a sine qua non in life, I’ve made it one of my four top priorities. Last January at this time, I urged you to do the same. If you did, you are a healthier person today. If you didn’t (or weren’t a subscriber then), you have another opportunity now.

Achieving good health is a matter of developing healthy habits. The two major habits you need to form are (1) eating well and (2) exercising sensibly. Tomorrow, I’ll give you the ETR program for super-healthy eating. Today, we are going to talk about exercise. Having a healthy body has little to do with weightlifting and muscles. It has little to do with the shape of your bottom. It is about being lean and strong and flexible — and you can become leaner and stronger and more flexible this year if you resolve to follow this program:


Do some muscle training (free weights, machines, cables, calisthenics) every week. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of time or push a lot of weight; the important thing is to gradually make yourself stronger. My personal plan involves about 90 minutes of strength training each week. Some weeks, I do three days of 30 minutes; other weeks, I do six days of 15 minutes. I vary my routines between weights and calisthenics and I vary the routines (reps, sets, combinations). This keeps it interesting. So does keeping track of my progress. My goal is simple: To get a little stronger every month.
As you get older, flexibility becomes extremely important. If it isn’t already, you should make flexibility training a cornerstone of your exercise routine. Plan to spend at least an hour each week toward this goal. I work with a trainer three times a week for 45 minutes per session and I stretch twice a day (in the morning and evening) for about five minutes. This routine — just begun six months ago — has made a noticeable difference. I not only can stretch better than half the guys I know who are half my age but also feel less vulnerable to injury when I do my other exercises.
To get the inside of your body working at optimum levels, you have to do some cardiovascular work each week. Again, you don’t have to go overboard. (In fact, my sources say that marathon running is bad for you.) The trick is to push yourself to make progress but to do so at a gradual pace so you don’t hurt yourself. I recommend you set aside about 90 minutes per week for cardiovascular training. My suggestion is to mix it up, as I do with strength training, to avoid boredom. My own routine is a bit more demanding. It includes a fairly brisk half-hour each working day at 7:30 a.m. plus a 60- to 90-minute Jiu Jitsu session four or five times a week.
For more information on exercise, see Message #235 (“Fitness for Overachievers”) and Message #614 (“Reduce the Time You Devote to Exercise and Increase Your Lifespan”). Also, read Dr. Al Sears’ “Health Confidential for Men” (even if you are a woman). Dr. Sears is particularly well-versed in strength training — having worked with athletes and having been an athlete himself for many years — and both his monthly newsletter and his weekly e-mail service are full of great routines and useful tips. Click here for more information:
To reiterate:
* Make a serious commitment to getting healthier this year.
* Identify the key areas of health you want to focus on and set yearly goals.
* To achieve those goals, establish a weekly exercise routine — something that incorporates strength training, flexibility training, and cardiovascular exercise.
* Change your exercises and routines as soon as they get boring, but don’t stop unless you get injured.
* Read more to learn more.
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Twenty years ago, the invention of Trivial Pursuit created a minor revolution in the annals of social interaction. People were lured away from their TV sets with an addictive game that was created to be played by groups of adults. Now there’s a 20th-anniversary edition of the game — launched with the hope that it will appeal to an increasingly sedentary (and out-of-shape) younger generation and updated with questions like “What do the Chinese call Chinese food, according to Chandler on ‘Friends’?” (Answer: “food”) No, it’s not a substitute for exercise — but it’s still better than just sitting for hours transfixed by computers, Palm Pilots, iPods, and personal DVD players.
[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]