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Updated 3:00 PM August 7, 2008




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Train like an Olympian: Fitness expert advises how to get moving like the champs

The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics conjure up images of fantastically fit athletes from all over the world going for the gold. Although the United States is a sports-crazed nation, increasing obesity rates indicate that most Americans would rather be spectators than participants.

There are many ways you can get off the couch and get moving without hurting yourself — even during commercial breaks, says Colleen Greene, wellness coordinator with MFit, the U-M Health System’s health promotion division. If the Olympic frenzy has inspired you to start a new fitness routine, Greene offers these tips:

• Speak with a professional. By working with a personal trainer, you can learn the best ways to perform your workouts to prevent injury. A trainer can also perform a fitness assessment, which provides baseline data — such as cardiovascular capacity, percent body fat, flexibility and strength — that can help you set challenging, realistic fitness goals. Also be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any health issues; he or she can provide insight on what kind of activities may be best and what should be avoided.

• Avoid overtraining. Running sprints and swimming a few laps in a pool may look easy on the television screen, but Greene says that it is best to take it slowly when starting a fitness regimen in order to prevent injury. Be sure to incorporate various activities into your routine instead of only one or two to avoid overtraining, which occurs when muscles are overworked through the repetition of the same activities.

“What you need to do is cross train,” explains Greene. “It is great if you like to run, but don’t run everyday. Try biking or swimming some days; do some different things. That way you are giving your muscles a rest and using them in different ways.”

• Find ways to stay motivated. Getting people involved in your fitness regimen in order to help you stay motivated and on track.

“One of the things to do is get a workout buddy because if that person is there and waiting for you to exercise, you’re less likely to blow things off,” Greene suggests.

Adding variety into your regimen keeps your exercises fresh, which will make you more likely to stick with it. Try playing pick-up games of sports, such as volleyball or basketball, with a group of friends, family or coworkers. This not only gets you active, it also is a fun, different way to spend time with the people in your life.

• Make exercise part of your routine. There are easy ways to incorporate exercise into your daily tasks, Greene notes. “Incidental bouts of exercise” can be done by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car at the farthest parking spot instead of the closest. She points out that these small changes add up over time and keep you thinking about fitness on a daily basis. Even watching the Olympics does not have to be a sedentary activity.

“When you are watching the Olympics, there are commercials. Go outside, have a little bit of a walk, do a few crunches; keep moving as much as you can, because it all makes a difference,” says Greene.

• Make fitness part of family time. You can use the Olympics as an opportunity to motivate your entire family to get fit.

“Parents need to get out there and have fun because the kids will see their parents doing it, and they’ll want to join in,” Greene explains. “Definitely set some family time aside each week so that you can go bike riding, play tennis or even go on a walk. As long as you’re doing it together, it’s not only family time, it’s fun.”

Overall Greene says the benefits of exercise on your health can be vast. Improved mood and mental acuity, an increase in flexibility and strength, improved blood pressure and decreased cholesterol are just a few results you may notice as you continue to workout.

“You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to see the benefits of exercise,” she notes. “Three times of exercise a week to start and more as you progress will give you huge benefits.”

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