Moving and improving

by Karl Lenser

The human body is an incredible machine that, when treated properly, can operate and function at a high level for many years. However, when subjected to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, being sedentary and consuming a high-fat, high-calorie diet, the human body will eventually succumb to some sort of illness, disease or life-limiting event that takes years away from the individual and reduces the quality of life.

In simplest terms, you basically are what you eat and what you do (or don’t do) with your body. It has been said that, when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, “exercise is the king and nutrition is the queen.” I would like to add that stress management could be the prince. These are the “Big Three” when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle and taking charge of your life.

February is National Heart Month, and I want to stress how important it is to take care of this wonderful, powerful and life-giving pump. Your heart is considered “cardiac muscle” and is THE most important muscle in your body. If your heart is in good condition, your life and health are probably OK, but when this amazing pump fails you and begins to need repairs or replacement, your quality of life can begin to head south in a hurry.

The best way to keep the heart healthy is to find activities that elevate the heart rate for extended periods of time (15-30 minutes or more). Training the heart is not much different than working on your arms and legs or abdominals. In order to get stronger, one has to challenge and tax the muscle in order for it to get stronger.

Brisk walking is one of the simplest and cheapest forms of cardiovascular training. We have been walking since we were 1 year old. You don’t have to relearn it. Jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing and elliptical machines are other examples of exercise that are great for conditioning the heart and lungs. Their primary function is to work together to provide blood and oxygen to your muscles, brain and other organs.

If you are new to exercise, start off with a goal of three days per week and get 30 minutes of cardio activity per session. This can be one 30-minute session or two 15-minute sessions. Gradually increase the duration and intensity as you become more fit.

Remember that in the world of fitness (and everything else in life), nothing happens without motivation. Motivation has to come from within — nobody can make you go to the gym or go for a walk at 5:30 a.m. in the middle of winter. YOU have to do it!

The body (working out and moving) will follow what the mind dictates. Exercise may not add years to your life, but it will add life to your years.

If you are moving, you are improving.


A Conway resident, Karl Lenser is the director of wellness programs at Hendrix College. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. An accomplished runner, he can be reached at [email protected].