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At this point we have to make the statement that we can take no responsibility for anything that you do based on this page and that you should consult a doctor before starting any serious programme of exercise and it is essential if you are old or have any existing medical condition - we actually did so to get a baseline from which to measure progress.
The discussions that we have had whilst developing our thoughts and this page have generated so much interest that we have decided to upload it although it is still under development. Much repetition needs to be removed and the structure is evolving - it will probably be broken into a number of shorter pages. In the meantime I have put links above to the current section to provide a simple index. Any feedback is welcome.
To discover what is required, practical and reasonable to extend our life expectancy as much as possible and to audit our current and desired physical activities in order to reach and maintain an appropriate level of fitness to be able to carry out those activities.
It is important to look at ones own motivation - many of those who say they are interested in Fitness and much of the literature has a different but slant where physical appearance plays the major role and bodybuilding and weight loss are equally valid end objectives. Kristy, who we owe a lot for building our initial interest in fitness, we suspect would have completely different motives and agenda - she had won a significant reputation in body building competitions in South West Australia before she joined the training staff on the Queen Elizabeth 2.
This was all a bit of a shock to the system as we had never been in a gym before. On our first session we were shown the equipment, used the bike and treadmill, and Kristy promised individual training programmes, which responded to Peter's shoulder problem, to be collected on the next session. The second session was much more hard work. The warming up with treadmill and bike was OK but it was followed by a cross trainer which was harder. The aim was to use up 100 calories before being allowed to stop in a target time of 7.5 mins! There was restricted work on the machines with weights for Peter, but there were lots of stretching exercises. Kristy was exactly we needed and drove us mercilessly - we had to jog between machines and had 'homework' to do in the cabin, and extra material to read before appointments. We were however benefiting so much that he booked another set of 3 classes. By the end of the cruise we had a regular morning routine of cardiac work and exercises before breakfast as well as Pete's time working on his arm - he must have been spending 2 hours a day in the gym for most of the cruise! We also had a session on use of 'Fit Balls' which included one to take away with us.
We have continued to make extensive use of the the gym on the QE2 on our cruises - our thanks also go to all those who have trained us and kept us going in the right direction since that initial time.
To be more specific after the accident the lack of ability to even walk any distance had led to his weight rising from the 170-175 pound range to closer to 185 pounds. Before the accident a walk of 10 miles along undulating Guernsey cliff paths with many climbs from water level back to 250 feet had little effect on the following day and there was adequate strength to handle anchors and sails whilst sailing and locks and bridges on the canals.
None of the above are quantitative other than weight so we searched in books to find some criteria to set targets, lay out an exercise programme and record progress. To proceed without a programme would be like holding a meeting without an agenda and to fail to identify targets would be ending a meeting without agreements and minutes - such a meeting might as well not take place. Of course, some of our targets and our programme evolved as our understanding improved and it was only when we were writing this page that we managed to put our mission statement so succinctly. It is our hope that telling others of our reasoning and progress will speed their progress down similar paths and help them avoid much of the hype.
The other two components of health addressed by exercise programs have a less obvious effect on life expectancy but are nevertheless important - they are exercises to develop strength and to develop flexibility. Exercises to develop muscular strength are often refered to as 'resistance exercises' ie working with weights, machines, resistance bands or using ones own weight. Exercises to develop flexibility are often 'stretching' exercises. Exercise programmes such as Pilates develop both both strength and flexibility along with other benefits such as improved posture.
The difficult problem was to put the above into a quantitative form so one could set some targets - I, for example, wanted to know what I should aim for as a weight and body fat percentage and how to measure them. I had also been doing 'cardio' exercises on the cross-trainer and bicycles on the QE2 but what targets were meaningful - should it be a target of so many calories burnt per day or should it be time spent at a certain work level or pulse rate. Most high specification gym machines can calculate calories expended from what you are doing(in some cases you need to input your weight) and give a pulse rate readout. As far as my arm went my initial target was to get the flexibility and strength to match the other arm but, after the initial stages, I had to work both arms together so I was chasing a moving target! There is also the important question of what is a safe level to avoid damage and everything, including expectations, is related to age and background.
I spent considerable time looking at books and on the Internet trying to get answers to these questions which initially seemed to so basic that I expected no problems in finding answers but that was not the case. It turned out to be a slow gathering of common denominators and consensus backed by going back to basic research papers. This finally led to my looking for the criteria used by areas where a high level of fitness is essential in carry out daily work and via coastguards to a whole goldfield of well documented and scientifically based work for the US armed forces. Staff working for the US Department of Defence and many other government bodies such as NOAA and the US coastguards have a annual or biannual assessment with real sanctions for those who do not measure up. These are described in more detail below.
In most large, long-term, well-designed studies, the lowest morbidity and mortality rates occurred in adults at weights that yielded BMIs (in kg/m2) between 19 and 25. Best body fat percentages averaged between 12% and 20% for men and 20% and 30% for women. The generally accept definition, including that for UK statistics) is that one is normal if the BMI is between 20 and 25, overweight if the BMI exceeds 25, Obese if it exceeds 30 and Morbidly Obese if it exceeds 40. There are many Body Mass Calculators on the web if you can not be bothered to calculate for yourself.
Body fat is difficult to measure accurately but a indications of the acceptable range and how it varies with age and sex can be gained from the recommended limits used by BUPA during their more comprehensive health assessments where they use more sophisticated and potentially more accurate techniques than available to normal people:
|Body Fat Percentage limits used by BUPA|
This is only part of the story as the detrimental effects of having a high level of body fat are very dependent on where the fat is distributed. The higher up the body the fat-containing tissue is located, the greater the risk of suffering heart trouble, diabetes, gallstones, varicose veins and other diseases. Therefore, it is more dangerous if fat deposits are located around the waist and chest close to vital organs, than on the thighs, hips or bottom.
A standard measure used to determine fat and it's distribution is the waist to hip measurement which is often refered to as the apple/pear indicator for obvious reasons - it is more urgent for an overweight apple-shaped person who has a spare tyre around their waist or a pot-belly to take action to lose this excess weight. The acceptable ratio is very different for men and women and targets for men are 0.92 with 1 being a danger sign whilst for women a target is 0.72 and the danger sign is at 0.80. There are also Shape Calculators to save you effort but the arithmetic is fairly trivial in this case! An even simpler indicator of fat percentage and distribution is used by BUPA in their simple health screens is the ratio of waist measurement to height which should be less than 0.50
The simplest and some of the most accurate methods for estimating body fat percentage come from the US Department of Defence. These were developed because twice each year, all DoD personnel (support as well as front line) must pass a fitness assessment. The initial stage is weight for height screening (ie Body Mass Index). Those with body weights exceeding that allowed for their height then have their body fat content estimated. A high level of body fat is only acceptable, if that level does interfere with measured athletic performance against age and sex related standards (Running/swimming times, press-up and crunch numbers and a stretch). Repeated failure to meet these health standards after remedial programs can result in disciplinary action, impaired promotion prospects and even discharge. The serious consequences in failure to meet body fat standards place considerable importance on the accuracy and validation of the estimators used.
Each of the different US services initially provided data on thousands of their own people and service specific equations were initially derived for both men and women by comparison with underwater weighing. A variety of measurements were evaluated and the best results were obtained with equations that utilised height along with waist and neck circumferences in men and waist, hips, and neck circumferences in women. The definitive work for the Navy was by J. Hodgdon. and M. Beckett (Prediction of percent body fat for U.S. navy men and women from body circumferences and height. Reports No. 84-29 and 84-11. Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, Cal. 1984).
While there were multiple equations derived from the various service data sets, the Navy circumference method is the most commonly employed because among the different equations, they gave the best correlation to underwater weighing. Simple calculators based on this method are found on many health fitness related web sites. Either Body Fat - U.S. Navy Circumference Method calculator I or Body Fat - U.S. Navy Circumference Method calculator II will give you a quick indication of your Body Fat Content.
In the 1990's, the military went further and combined the data sets and provided the results in a tabular form in Hodgdon, J. A. and Friedl, K. 1999. Development of the DoD body composition estimation equations. Report No. 99-2B. San Diego, CA, Naval Health Research Center. I recommend printing the relevant section of table so you can work out the waist measurement you need to achieve for an target Body Fat. If the link fails a search for the title of the paper using Google should find a copy.
Technological advances have now made it feasible to examine bone density in humans and it is now feasible to use a more complete four-compartment model (fat mass, bone mass, water mass, and remaining fat-free mass) rather than just an underwater weighing. This gives an exact determination of body fat content against which the Accuracy of the U.S. Navy Circumference Method has been independently assessed by the Naval Health Research Center in 2001 and results indicate that the Navy's circumference-based equation is equal or superior in predicting body fat to other commonly used methods and algorithms - it has a standard error estimate of just over 3.12% fat for men and 3.16% fat for women.
The same principle was applied to Body Fat Percentage and a target of 18% was chosen. Initially this was considered to be a target using measurements from our fancy Tanita electronic scales which use biometric impedance to estimate body fat and with readings taken at Tanita's recommended time for maximum consistency and accuracy, namely late afternoon well after the last meal. Fat can be also be estimated using simple physical measurements as covered below - that gave an associated target for waist measurement of 35 inches (assuming ones neck does not change appreciably).
These three initial targets (Weight 159, Fat 18% and Waist 35") were set within 2 weeks of our return home from the QE2 and had not been changed 8 months latter when this page was first written although by that point it had become clear that the Fat Percentage via waist measurement needs a lower weight than the BMI target.
In contrast exercise not only burns plenty of fat but potentially increases muscle reducing rather than increasing the calories needed to cut even. Cardiovascular exercise (which is covered in more detail below) is very effective at burning fat whilst working in the range 65% to 75% of maximum heart rate. In the range 75% to 85% there are increased cardiovascular advantages but there is an increased percentage burn from proteins. In both cases the greatest efficiency of the exercise in burning fat occurs after the 15 minute mark. A cross trainer is good for getting a high calory burn as arms are exercised as well as legs but it took many months of exercise before we could maintain a calory output of 800 calories for half an hour. Even bending the rules to include the warm-up and cool-down periods 500 calories from a 45 minute cardiovascular exercise session seems to be the maximum realistic - the initial target set by Kristy, our trainer on the QE2, was 250 calories a day. 250 calories a day sounds very little but if done 5 days a week for a year one could take off about 20 lbs without any change in diet and will have hopefully increased muscle rather than lost it.
Trying to lose weight by exercise alone is however almost as unlikely to work as by dieting alone and the essential components of a weight loss or weight management program include a calorie reduction of 300-500 calories per day along with an appropriate level of exercise until the desired level is reached. Initially weight may fall quite rapidly as excess water is lost but a steady reduction of 2 to 2.5 pounds a week is about the maximum which should try to sustain.
The cross trainer we bought was from Horizon, one name used by a well known firm that also produces professional equipment. It seemed well built and the model we got the Andes 100 was half price in a sale making it, at under £200, remarkable value. It has relatively simple monitoring and a mechanical setting for levels rather than the sophisticated readouts of calories etc and complex programs of work that one gets from much more expensive models. It does have a timer, rpm, elapsed distance and speed (in fairly arbitrary units). It also a heart rate monitor which is 'Polar' compatible which also has hand sensors one can grip for a quick reading. We note that the current and more advanced Horizon Andes 150 and 200 which seem to be based around the same mechanical structure are now available from Argos at£ £499 and £599 respectively.
The need for variation: If you are trying to improve your overall fitness it is accepted by athletes that one will need to vary ones workouts as the body adapts to routine and you may have hit a plateau. Variety is the key and one needs eventually to focus on different workouts on different days with endurance days at an easier pace than usual (60-70% MRH) followed by a shorter workout another day staying close to 80%. Many machines have programmes for interval workout like hill repeats and one can do the same oneself using intervals where you accelerate for 1 minute then slow to recover for three minutes and repeat.
We initially did not have specific targets for improvement when we got our own machine as we did not know what was achievable and how to measure it! The ensuing story was complex and the following goes into in more detail than is probably necessary. First was a period of getting to understand the machine and how it compared to what we had been using.
We went through a number of iterations on how to set a sensible workout and progressively make it more demanding. Firstly I have always done a warm-up and cool-down and that has not been included as part of measured period. Secondly the time of exercise has always been more than 25 minutes and the averaging function on the Heart Rate Monitor has been used for the first of 25 - 30 minutes to give a reasonably continuous set of measurements to evaluate progress when combined with the Level set on the machine and 'average RPM' during that time. The Level has only been increased twice since the very initial period when one seemed to be improving fast but probably this was more a matter of technique and development of leg and arm muscles rather than benefits to the heart. It would have been nice to have a machine with at least a relative readout of Calories or some other measure of work. It is worth noting that the speed is very significant as the effort expended goes with the square of the speed on our machine as the magnetic drag used on our machine is proportional to RPM and the 'distance' is also proportion to RPM.
It took several months before I could maintain the desirable minimum speed of 65 RPM which corresponds to a very fast pace whilst walking. If you are using a bicycle then one should aim for a little over 80 RPM which is the lowest efficient pedaling rate. The other constraint was Heart Rate where I was aiming for an average of about 75% of maximum. I tried both controlling the speed to match the desired heart rate and selecting a speed which experience showed would get close to the average I wanted. As ones performance does vary a little from day to day the choice of adjusting to the Heart Rate seems slightly preferable - often I worked on an increasing rate during the exercise period. Again I tried both using distance in a fixed time versus time for a fixed distance as the performance measure for a given average pulse rate - I have tended to measure times for a fixed distance recently as it allows one to chose the level of workout (ie pulse rate average) whilst maintaining the overall work more constant.
Overall there has been a very slow but consistent improvement - higher speeds for longer times at lower heart rates and a couple of step changes in level. It is difficult to be quantitative as weight also comes into the equation as one is obvious not having to work quite so hard as ones weight falls - that is why many gym machines ask you to enter your weight. Ignoring the reduction in weight it looks like an overall improvement, since we bought the cross trainer, of 20% in rate of energy expended kept up for 40% longer at a more controlled pulse rate. The recovery time is subjectively much quicker but we need some way to measure that qualitatively. The other improvement is in resting heart rate, again we did not make measurements initially so it only subjective but it is not not unknown for Pete's to be down to under 60 perhaps a fall of 15. If I was starting again I would measure the resting heart rate every morning after waking up and before getting up using the finger on the neck method and recording it along with weight and fat percentage.
|Energy expenditure in Calories/Hour
160 lb Person
|Speed mph||Slope in Percent|
The figures are those used by a well known manufacturer of treadmills to convert from speed and slope to calories used with the machine set for a 160 lb person. The energy expended walking and jogging is proportional to the person weight ie a 200 lb person will expend 200/160 times as much energy. You should be aware that the machine assumes that at or above 4.5 miles per hour the person is jogging. You will note that the energy expenditure has increased considerably for jogging over running on the level but the increase with slope is less as the hill climbing is assumed to be more efficient when jogging. If one does the full calculations the efficiency of the body assumed by fitness machines in converting energy to height gain is about 25% walking and 50% when jogging. I am still seeking a scientific basis for the figures used by fitness machines - 50% efficiency converting stored energy to useful work seems high to me and higher than I recall cyclists using for their calculations.
A useful figure derived from the above is that when walking every 1000 foot climb uses an additional 200 calories for a 160 lb typical male and 150 calories for a typical 120 lb female over a flat walk of the same length.
At the end of a period of cardiovascular work one needs to slow down progressively to allow the heart to slow down and the waste (lactic acid etc) to be removed from the muscles. The cool down time is related to the level and length of the workout but a sensible rule of thumb is a progressive reduction of heart rate over about 15% of the workout time till it is just below the working zone ie. under 65% of MHR. The recovery time is a useful indicator of fitness which we need to investigate further. Another important part of the cooling down activities after cardio work is to do stretches on the major muscles used whilst they are still warm.
At the rate one is working during Cardiovascular work one will be losing a lot of water just to cool the body down. One should drink extra, preferably 30 minutes before exercising, and during and after exercising. By the time the body feels thirsty 2% water lose can occur. While dieting or exercising one should drink at least 8 glasses of water in addition to any alcoholic or caffeine based drinks to flush out the extra waste products from the burning of fat and hard worked muscles.
We have not been seriously into strength work at home other than for the arm for which we bought a small set of weights to work the arm including the minor 'rotator cuff' muscles which he does when well warmed up by the cardio exercise. Free weights are arguably the best way to develop strength and Pete has now bought a bigger set of weights to compliment the strengthen exercises he does do using body weight - push-ups for the upper body, squats and lunges, for lower body and curls and crunches for the abdominal muscles. We feel it is now time to include some extra resistance work in our programme because any reduction in weight tends to come from muscle mass as well as fat. One can not afford to lose too much muscle and strength - it tends to reduce with age so it is important to do something to build/retain enough strength to carry out the activities one is used to.
Many people feel you can not make progress without pain but one has to differentiate between good pain where one has worked hard which goes very quickly and bad pain where one has done damage and one may have to wait days or longer to allow sprains and damaged muscles to repair and recover. A certain amount of professional training will help one to learn to how to tell the difference between good and bad pain. Working at a level where 8 or more repetitions are possible with good form reduces the chances of damage even if one does a few repetitions too many. Everybody is slightly different but the following table is an indication of how the 'load' relates to repetitions and allows one to estimate the maximum one might be capable of without the risks of trying it out. It also confirms that it is time to change the 'load' up by about 25% when one can complete 12-15 repetitions and that steps of 50% in weights is really too much needing a change from 25 to 4 repetitions.
|Percentage of Maximum||100||95||93||90||87||85||83||80||77||75||67||65||60||55||50||45|
In particular it is important/essential to include stretches on any muscles one has been working hard in cardiovascular exercise or resistance work. After working on the cross-trainer I do stretches for the leg muscles which would end up shorter and wider as they develop with exercise, like a steak cooking. The first is pulling the leg back up behind one with the same arm until a tension is felt. Initially I could not even reach the foot and had to use a towel looped down to foot. Now I can easily reach the left foot and bring it up to touch the buttock showing how much one can improve flexibility. The second involves the matching stretch on the calf muscles - One leg forwards and bent, the other back with the toe on the ground and stretching back until the tension can be felt in the front. Such stretches are held for 20-30 seconds and at a level of light pain which should stop within seconds of releasing the tension.
Push-up Test: The number of Push-ups which can be completed in 2 minutes is used as an indicator of upper body muscular endurance.
As well as those linked in the text the following may be of interest:
Cardiovascular Equipment: The major item was an cross trainer (elliptical trainer) was manufactured by Horizon, a major manufacturer of both professional equipment (sold under a different name) and home equipment. This has received a lot of use since we bought it, Pete uses it most mornings at home for about 45 minutes, and it has proved very satisfactory other than not having any absolute calibration. It has Polar compatible heart rate monitoring system which has proved fully compatible with the Polar monitoring sensor belt. Our Horizon Andes 100 was bought half price as an end of line - if we had known how much use it would get we might have bought one which had readout of calory burn and a number of built in programs simulating walking up and down hills etc. The top range models have feedback mechanisms using the heart rate monitoring to adjust the loads to exercise at the optimum level which is a good safety mechanism. Some even have simulated displays to show the sort of terrain you are supposed to be walking, running or cycling over which is a gimmick too far for us.
Resistance (strength) training equipment: We have only bought the minimum of aids for strength training. We have set of small dumbbells really for use Pete's arm and a resistance band - a length of rubber with a handle at each end. In general free weights are better than fancy machines for exercise as the machines tend to be carefully designed to exercise a particular muscle but that is not what happens in real life and one also needs to develop the coordination and strengthen the minor muscles that stabilise the actions. To this end we also bought a 'Fitball' (Swiss Ball) - they are blown up balls circa 2 feet in diameter which you use as part of the exercises, sitting or lying on it whilst exercising forces far more muscles into use to maintain stability. We have more recently bought a larger cheap set of free weights (Argos again) which are not used a tremendous amount yet - they have weights which seem to be concrete filled vinyl. They are too clumsy for some exercises and we would recommend the more expensive ones with cast iron weights that are more compact and allow them to be used closer to the body.
To discover what is required, practical and reasonable to extend ones life expectancy as much as possible and to audit ones current and desired physical activities and to reach and maintain a level of fitness to carry out those activities.
The above sections have identified and quantified a number of factors relating to fitness which should extend our lives and allow us to enjoy life to the full. Where possible these have been quantified into specific targets and programs of action.
An unexpected additional achievement has been the interest this page has generated and the number of visitors it is attracting (circa 6000 a year) - if our reasoning and progress inspire and help a few of you progress whilst avoiding some of the hype, it will have been worth our while documenting and sharing our experiences.
Body Mass Index: 22.5 (25 -> 22)
Weight: 159 (182 -> 154)
Body Fat Percentage: 18% (Tanita 21.5% -> 17%)
Waist: 35" (37" -> 34.5")
Body Fat Distribution: Waist/Hip ratio: less than 0.92 (.95 -> .90)
Flexibility: Touching toes (about -4" -> +2")
Meeting hands up back to over shoulder: (fail -> easy)
Lift leg to buttock: (huge failure -> left easy - right just)
Energy burn: 800 cals/hour for 30 mins on cross trainer at 75% MHR average (about 800cals/hour for 7:30 with peak of over 90% MHR -> about 850 for 35 minutes at 75% MHR average )
Jogging (Additional Target): 2 miles at 6 mph at less than 85% MHR average (N/A -> 2.2 mls at 6 mph with slope of 1% at peak of under 90% MHR)
Recovery rate: Should have been measured and specified
Resting pulse rate lying down: Should have been monitored (about 75 -> 55-65)
"Military Fitness Assessment": Target to achieve the Minimum Satisfactory Level for sex and age
Sitting toe touch: pass/fail (pass)
Push-ups: 19 (None -> 13-17 range)
Curl-ups: 29 (N/A -> 14-29 range)
1.5 Mile Jog: 16:45 (N/A -> best of 14:57)
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Layout revised: 27th May, 2015