Starting your exercise program on the right foot

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 8, 1998

To Your Health: Starting your exercise program on the right foot

Stanford book can get you started on the road to fitness

by The Health Library

QMy husband, a former college football player, has spent the last 20 years being pretty sedentary except for bursts of starting exercise programs that he doesn't stay with. He's talking about starting jogging, but I'm wondering if you know of any programs that might help him stay with it this time? A Your husband's desire to return to regular exercise is a good impulse, and it's great that you want to help him make the most of it. With what appears to be the return of spring, lots of us are ready to make a fresh start and are casting about for just the right program or sport. "Fresh Start, Real Health, Real Results for Real People" is the title of a wonderful book from the Stanford Medical School Health and Fitness Program that could be just what you and your husband need.

"Fresh Start" is more than just a primer on why exercise is good for you, it really is a guide to creating a program for yourself that will be realistic, and one that can be followed for a lifetime. The authors and researchers go to great lengths to make the reader understand that the highly specialized diets and faddish exercise trends that we hear about constantly don't contribute in a meaningful way to health, well-being and longevity.

The common denominators to a healthy lifestyle are much simpler and closer at hand than many of us realize. The book is divided into three sections. The first part, "Why Exercise?," has four chapters that span the dimensions of the question, and include clear explanations about how even the smallest amounts of regular exercise provide benefits.

The second part, titled "Get Started Now!" starts with a chapter on the most common excuses we all find for not sticking with regular exercise, a self-test to determine where your largest obstacles are, and then strategies on how to overcome your "type."

The next section of the book offers concrete examples of various ways to exercise. It includes sections on maintaining a healthy back, achieving flexibility, developing an aerobic exercise plan, and an introduction to strength training. It also includes a good self test for assessing your readiness to begin an exercise program with guidelines about when to have a physical assessment by a doctor before starting to exercise. If you haven't considered strength training (otherwise known as weight lifting) before, the authors of "Fresh Start" make a compelling case for its necessity and value as we age in the section "Using your Muscles for Life."

Part three, "Exercise for Special Needs" covers topics such as exercising after a heart attack, controlling high-blood pressure with exercise, customizing exercise for special needs, and exercise for the elderly.

Another excellent guide to exercise and health is "The Wellness Guide to Lifelong Fitness," from the editors of UC Berkeley's Wellness Letter. What makes this book such a standout, aside from the high quality of information you'd expect, are the wonderful color photographs that illustrate in great successive detail how to approach and complete a particular exercise. For someone working out alone, this book serves very well as an instructor through its illustrations. After sitting inside through a rainy winter, the pictures of cyclists and walkers feel like a kick in the gluteus maximus to get you started on a program of your own.

For a provocative roundtable discussion about the politics, advantages, and difficulties of sports and exercise throughout life, be sure to attend the April 30 symposium "Playing For Keeps: Sports, Exercise and Your Health," featuring Joan Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle columnist and sportswriter, and author of "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes." Ryan will moderate the roundtable discussion with panelists Nancy Ditz, Olympic Marathon runner; Sally Harris, pediatrician and sports medicine specialist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation; Gordon Matheson, associate professor and chief of the division of sports medicine at the Stanford University Medical School; and scholar, author and veteran San Francisco 49er, Jamie Williams.

"Playing For Keeps" is this year's Great American Health Controversies Symposium that benefits The Health Library. It is being held Thursday, April 30, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Kresge Auditorium, Stanford University. Admission is $15 for adults, and $10 for students and seniors. For tickets and information information, call 650/498-7826.

To submit a question, write to The Health Library c/o The Palo Alto Weekly or e-mail us at The Health Library resources are not intended as a substitute for medical care. The main branch is located at 248 Stanford Shopping Center. For more information, call 725-8400 or point your Internet browser to The Health Library is a community service of Stanford University Hospital. 

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