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THE KEY TO BETTER HEALTH: ADOPTING AN ACTIVE LIFESTYLE

Do you climb stairs rather than taking the elevator? Walk your dog twice a day? Park at the back of the lot and walk a bit farther to your office building? If so, you may be achieving the same health benefits as individuals on more structured exercise programs.

Recent studies indicate that individuals who incorporate 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity into their daily routines achieve similar improvements and comparable decreases in body fat and blood pressure as individuals who participate in more structured workouts. Research has also shown that short bursts of exercise (five to 10 minutes) scattered throughout the day provide the same overall health benefits as a sustained 30-minute workout.

So if improved health is your goal, you may already be accomplishing it by engaging in physical activities that fit easily into your daily life. However, if you're interested in improving your fitness level, a bit more effort may be required.

Unlike health, fitness is measured by performance, including cardiovascular efficiency and muscular strength. To improve fitness, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends aerobic exercise for 20 to 60 minutes three to five times a week and resistance training at least twice a week.

Depending on your personal goals, you may wish to put a little more vigor in your daily routine or embark on a structured workout program. Keep in mind that some physical activity is always better than none!

The following exercise strengthens the muscles of the upper back using a resistance tube. Resistance tubes and bands are perfect for beginners and veteran exercisers alike. They are inexpensive, lightweight, portable and extremely versatile.

Begin by sitting tall in a chair with your feet firmly on the floor and your abdominal muscles engaged. Hold the tube in your hands, looping it to take up the slack so that it is taught when your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Raise the tube overhead and press your shoulders down, anchoring your shoulder blades on your back (photo on far left).

Continue pressing your shoulders down and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull you hands apart and pull the tube down in front of you to shoulder level (right photo).

Focus on moving your upper arm, and allow your elbows to bend slightly behind your torso. Pause briefly and slowly return to the beginning position. Don't allow the tube to jerk your arms out of alignment, which can cause injury to the shoulder joint.

Repeat this exercise 10 to 12 times, rest and repeat for two or three sets.

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