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Cardiovascular fitness key to healthy lifestyle

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Editor's note: This is the first installment in a series of fitness articles that will run throughout the month of May in conjunction with Air Force Fitness Month.) 

The aim of Air Force Fitness Month is to teach Airmen how to set a routine and maintain their fitness level while promoting fitness education. 

A solid cardiovascular fitness program is a step in the right direction toward maintaining a high fitness level, according to fitness officials. 

There are three specific things each individual can do to improve cardiovascular fitness, according to exercise physiologist Patrick Conway, 62nd Medical Operations Squadron. First, do an activity that involves large muscle groups, such as walking, running or swimming. 

"Large muscle groups require more blood to function and will therefore force the heart to work harder, strengthening the heart muscle," Mr. Conway said. 

Second, find an aerobic activity and do it at an intensity that will increase heart rate and breathing. The way to set up a target heart rate zone is to subtract one's age from 220. 

Once a maximum heart rate is established, most people will see a good improvement over six to eight weeks when they maintain 75 percent to 90 percent intensity while exercising, Mr. Conway said. 

To obtain the best results, make sure that respiration (or breathing) is increasing throughout the activity. Mr. Conway recommends using a talk test. 

"If you can speak normally and without much difficulty while exercising, increase the intensity until it is more difficult to speak," he said. 

And lastly, try to maintain consistency. Performing aerobic activity on a consistent basis, such as four to five times a week in the target heart rate zone and correct duration (at least 30-60 minutes) will lead to positive results. 

"You should see marked improvement in six to eight weeks," Mr. Conway said. 

The benefits of aerobic activity are many. Cardiovascular fitness is very important for good health as well as fitness improvement. People who have a high level of cardiovascular fitness have a much lower incidence of heart failure, high blood pressure and some cancers. Overall, those individuals tend to have fewer diseases. 

Beginners should start out walking at a good pace five days a week for 45 to 60 minutes for 30 days. As cardiovascular fitness improves, begin to do higher intensity activities such as running or aerobics, Mr. Conway said. 

And never underestimate the power of the walk. 

"Even a daily walk for 45 to 60 minutes will help develop a good level of fitness for increased cardiovascular activity like running, swimming, cycling and high intensity aerobics," he said. "Do the activity that you like the best, because consistency is key." 

For help getting started, McChord will host a run and walk clinic at 3 p.m. May 9 at the 400 meter track in front of the Fitness Center Annex. Mr. Conway will be teaching and giving pointers on how to become faster, avoid injury and become a better overall runner or walker. He will also discuss how to choose the best shoes for the individual foot. 

The clinic is just one of the programs and events this month designed to help answer fitness and nutrition questions, said Tanya Henriques, a health education program manager with the 62nd MDOS. 

"The information for this clinic can be very valuable," Ms. Henriques said. "With any exercise program people tend to do it incorrectly, become injured and then have to quit exercising." 

The clinic will help to inform people about how to exercise correctly and avoid becoming injured so they can continue on the path to ultimate health and fitness, she said.