4. Optimize Physical Training
Most folks measure health by their physical performance. Exercise is indeed one way to measure the integrity of our fuel as well as our overall well-being. However, creating balance in our exercise habits can prove difficult since there is no universal formula. If working out is not yet habitual, beginning can be the greatest challenge. I call it training because it is a constant learning journey that requires regular practice to maintain our physical capabilities while adapting our exercises accordingly.
As individuals, we can positively maximize our physical performance. Our bodies are incredible. Athletes who achieve things thought to be impossible astonish us all. By utilizing our unique talents, we join our fellow beings in collectively doing everything that humans can.
One of the simplest ways to improve performance is to walk. Walking is the most common rudimentary movement required in athletic activities. It is also one of the most overlooked exercises simply because it is time-consuming. It’s safe to say that everyone reading this could afford to walk more. I attribute most of my physical maintenance to walking (at a fast pace) between 3 and 10 miles daily. (That is not to say that everyone can walk. For those who are unable to walk at all, there are many other options.)
In my approach to physical training, I focus on four areas. Creating a balanced training regimen is a continuous adaptation of movements that target the maintenance and/or progress of each focal point.
Cardiovascular. When we use exercise to train our cardiovascular system, we fine-tune the collection and distribution of resources acquired through respiration, hydration, and nutrition. The main thing to understand with “cardio training” is heart rate. Stressing the heart temporarily raises blood pressure, and there is a danger when it comes to BPM (beats per minute). To mitigate the risks, we can set our maximum BPM by subtracting our age (in years) from 220. Working within 70%-85% of that number while improving sustainability will effectively train the body to increase the fortitude of the heart.
Flexibility. From my first martial arts class, stretching played a large part in the general warm-up activities, and it has remained the foundation of my exercise routines. A quick limbering-up is always beneficial prior to stretching the body in fixed positions. I tend to hold a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, or 1-3 deep breaths. Longer holds can temporarily reduce muscle functionality and increase the risk of injury while training. Post-workout stretching is similar, though I may hold a posture for an extra breath or two. Remember: Flexibility is the opposite of rigidity. While working on flexibility, I always remind myself to let the body stretch by relaxing into the position, rather than forcing the body into pain. Pain is not the goal in stretching. But tolerating mild discomfort allows me to improve and maintain all aspects of my physical training.
Strength/Agility. Not to be confused with bodybuilding. For me, strength and agility training are crucial to my performance as a martial artist. My physical therapy programs permit constant maintenance of strength and agility despite the lingering injuries of my past. I tailor my workouts to the imbalances left in their wake and set goals just beyond my capabilities, so that I challenge myself to surpass my “comfort zones.” These workouts generally include exercises to stimulate concentric, eccentric, and isometric muscle contractions, as well as compound and plyometric exercises for explosiveness.
Body Fat Percentage. Self-image is significant to our emotional stability, which does play a role in our overall health. But just like our bodies, the way we see ourselves fluctuates almost daily. Where fat is concerned, weight gain/loss has more to do with either a surplus or a deficit of calories. We can look at fat as “stored energy” since our fat cells absorb what’s left of the nutrients we consume without using. Exercise may help incinerate excess calories, but without balanced nutrition our fat-burning efforts can stagnate. And while the suggested percentages can serve as a general reference point, I am mainly using them as to show the health risks of extreme highs and lows vs. the benefits of healthy mediums.
For adults under 40, optimal body fat percentages range between 10% and 19%, and anything between 20% and 26% is considered healthy. After 40, the peak percentages are between 19% & 23%, with 23% - 30% body fat considered healthy. Though each of us is going to have to study ourselves to discover our peak percentages, it is generally accepted that the female body requires a higher percentage of body fat than the male body and that we all may need a bit more than 10% body fat to live a healthy life. (Regardless of what modern fashion models look like.)