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Measure exercise intensity in several ways

How hard is your workout? Measure exercise intensity in several ways:

1. Target Heart Rate-Ranges from moderate intensity (50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate-calculated to high intensity (70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate). Calculate maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.

2. Talk Test-Ranges from low intensity (you can sing while exercising) to high intensity (you cannot speak comfortably).

3. Rate of Perceived Exertion-Ranges from 6 (doing nothing) to 14 (feels hard) to 20 (feels like you'll die).

Low- to moderate-intensity workouts are good for fat burning, while high intensity workouts improve cardiovascular conditioning.

Kick it up a notch

To achieve the maximum benefit of walking, we may have to "kick it up a notch," as Chef Emeril Lagasse would say. Two studies on the effects of brisk walking show that we need to walk for longer periods of time in order to get the most out of this form of exercise.

The first study had participants take three brisk walks each week for a total of 60 minutes. This was simply not enough to improve fitness level or cardiovascular health. The second study had participants walk 150 minutes a week, over five walks. This group significantly improved aerobic fitness and decreased blood pressure. However, their body mass index did not change.

In order to achieve weight loss, walkers need to rack up a minimum of 200 minutes a week. A study reported in March 2005 in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine examined 201 women to determine the effect of duration and frequency of exercise on weight loss and cardiorespiratory fitness in previously sedentary, overweight, women. Those who reduced their caloric and fat intake and who walked an average of more than 200 minutes per week lost more weight than those who exercised an average of less than 150 minutes per week. Walk on!

For better balance, try Tai Chi

Interested in growing old gracefully? Studies show that practising the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi may improve balance and stability.

In a study published in April 2005 in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation researchers tracked 51 elderly participants in a community-based Tai Chi program. After 12 weeks participants had better postural control and increased spinal flexion. They also had greater range of movement, which is especially important for older individuals to help reduce their risk of falling.

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