What are the fundamentals of regular exercise?

Exercise regularly or perish like a vegetable.

-Author Unknown

We need to exercise regularly to maintain tone in our muscles. If you do not use certain muscles on a regular basis then the muscles start to waste, become thin and weak. An immobilized muscle starts to lose tone within 24 hours. And it gets progressively worse. Our body was designed to keep moving. That is why we have muscles and joints. Lack of physical activity makes our muscles weak and joints stiff.

There are there are three types of muscles in the human body: cardiac, smooth and skeletal muscles.

Cardiac (heart) muscle is a very strong muscle because it has to pump blood forcefully to all parts of the body. The heart muscle needs regular exercise to keep it strong and make it stronger. In a physically fit person the resting heart rate goes down because a healthy strong heart has to work less to pump the blood to rest of the body.

Heart muscle is the hardest working muscle in the body. It pumps out 2 ounces (71 grams) of blood at every heartbeat. Every day, the heart pumps at least 2,500 gallons (9,450 liters) of blood. The heart has the ability to beat over 3 billion times in a person’s life. That is one more reason to keep the heart healthy and strong.

Smooth muscles make up the walls of the intestine, the uterus, blood vessels, and internal muscles of the eye. These muscles are under the control of autonomic nervous system and their strength is not dependent on exercise.

Skeletal muscles, in most parts, are attached to the bones. There are about 650 to 850 muscles in our skeletal system – these are the muscles responsible for most of our daily activities. Contraction and relaxation of the skeletal muscles helps limbs, joints and other body parts to move. Like the heart muscle, skeletal muscles require regular exercise to make them strong and keep them strong.

Each muscle or group of muscles performs specific activity. The size and strength of the muscles depend on the kind of activity they do. Strongest muscles in our body are masseter (muscles of mastication), gluteus maximus (muscles of the buttocks) and quadriceps femoris (muscles of the thigh).

Masseter, with all muscles of the jaw working together, can close the teeth with a force as great as 55 pounds (25 kilograms) on the incisors or 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) on the molars.

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. It is large and powerful because it has the job of keeping the trunk of the body in an erect posture. It is the chief antigravity muscle that aids in walking up stairs.

To be healthy and physically strong, we need to keep our heart muscle strong and strengthen our two large and strong skeletal muscle groups (quadriceps and gluteal muscles) by doing aerobic exercises, squats, leg presses, stairs climbing and lunges. More about this in the future columns.

Doing regular exercise is a lifelong commitment. Exercise must become one of those things that you do without question, like bathing and brushing your teeth. It should not be taken lightly. Unless you are convinced of the benefits of fitness and the risks of unfitness, you will not succeed. Be patient and do it at your own pace, but keep doing it. (The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports: http://www.fitness.gov/home_about.htm)

As they say, more is better and less is better than nothing.

In the next few columns we will discuss different kinds of exercises and their health benefits. So stay tuned.

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