The Heart-Healthy Workout Anyone Can Do
Regular exercise is as important to heart health as eating the right food, cutting sugar, and eliminating toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, regular exercise is where many of us — not to make a pun — fall down. Too many of us don't exercise even though we may do everything else in our power to improve our health.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Maybe we feel like we just don't have enough time to fit it in. We may think we're not in good enough shape to even start. Some of us may have arthritis, or worry about injuring ourselves because we're not very flexible. Whatever the reasons, by not exercising we're missing out on one of the key tools for maintaining a healthy heart.
The truth is, none of that really matters. It's never too late to start exercising, and you're never too out-of-shape to begin — the hardest part is simply getting started. With that in mind, I've created a simple exercise program that anyone can do, regardless of fitness level. You don't need any pricey equipment. It doesn't take a lot of time. But it will get you started on the path to a healthy exercise habit. All you need is yourself, a straight-backed chair, and some light hand-held weights or even a couple cans of canned goods.
Part 1: Lower body
Calf workout: Stand behind your chair and grip the back of it lightly. Slowly rise up onto your tip-toes and hold the position for a count of 3, then lower yourself back down. Do this 5 times.
Side leg lift: Shift your weight to your left foot and lift your right leg out to the side as high as you can, hold for a count of 3, and slowly lower it. Repeat with your left leg. Do this 5 times for each leg.
Backward leg lift: Without pointing your toes, lift your right leg out behind you as high as you can. Hold the position for a count of three. Repeat with your left leg. Do this 5 times.
Standing leg curl: Bend your right leg at the knee and stretch your foot up as far as you can. Try to touch your foot to your buttocks. Hold for a count of three, then repeat on the other side. Do this 5 times for each leg. If it's too easy, feel free to add ankle weights.
Lunge: With your right foot, take a large step backward. Shift your weight onto this foot and bend your left knee as far as you can. Hold the position for a count of three, then straighten your knee and return your right foot to its original position. Repeat with the other leg. Do this 5 times on each side.
Modified squat: Walk around to the front of your chair and stand with your back to it, with the backs of your legs barely touching the seat. Cross your arms over your chest with your hands on opposite shoulders. Now, slowly lower yourself a few inches as if you're going to sit down — but stop before you get to the seat. It's a good idea to start out only squatting a few inches, then increasing the depth of the squat till it becomes a slight strain. It's better to under-do it than to overdo it, but if you do, the chair is there to catch you. Once you find the "sweet spot" where it's a bit of a strain but not impossible to hold, stay in the position for a count of 3. Do this 5 times.
(Whew! Now you can sit down in the chair for the next few exercises.)
Knee extension and forward leg lift: Sit in the chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees a couple of inches apart. Slowly straighten your right leg till your knee is fully extended. Hold for a count of three. Then lift your entire leg as high as you can and hold this position for a count of three. Slowly lower your leg back to the chair seat, then bend your knee and put your foot back on the floor. Do the same thing with your left leg. Repeat 5 times.
Part 2: Upper body
The "peek-a-boo": Extend your arms out at shoulder height, then bend your elbows so that your fingers point up and your palms face forward. Keeping your arms at shoulder level and your elbows at right angles, bring your elbows in toward each other in front of you. Your palms should meet as if you're clapping, and the goal is to touch your elbows together too. Reverse the entire motion and return to your starting position. Repeat 5 times. If this is too easy, you can add light weights; if you don't have weights, gripping a can of canned food or a bottle of water in each hand adds a little weight.
Overhead press: Starting with your arms still at shoulder level and elbows bent, reach above your head as high as you can. Reverse the motion, ending with bent elbows. Do this 5 times. Again, you can add weights if you like.
Biceps curl: This can be done standing or sitting. Begin with your arms at your sides and weights in hand. Slowly bend your elbows, curl your wrists, and draw your hands up to touch your shoulders. Reverse, and end with your arms at your sides. Repeat 5-10 times.
The airplane: Start in an upright position, feet flat on the floor, weights (or cans) in hand and arms hanging at your sides. Keeping your back, head, and neck straight, slowly lean forward and at the same time raise your arms out to the sides till they reach shoulder level. Hold for a count of three then slowly return to an upright position. Repeat 5 times.
The whole routine should only take about 15 minutes, so you're not committing a huge chunk of your day to it. You will, however reap some benefits, especially if you repeat it twice per day or combine it with other exercise like walking or swimming. This is a simple workout, and for most people it won't be strenuous. It will, however, get you in the habit of regular exercise and even prepare you for more intense exercise when you're ready to move on.
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