When we are at the track we often see the guy who drives up, parks his car, bolts out, commences to run around the track at top speed and after 5 minutes (or a few laps) stops, heads for his car and is off . At the fitness clubs we see women jump into an in-progress aerobics session, bounce around for a few minutes, and then walk off. No doubt, they are congratulating themselves because they think they have just exercised.

These people are either unaware of or not phased by the importance of the five phases of an cardiovascular exercise session. We have seen many people start an exercise program with great intentions and then suddenly quit. Usually, they quit because of pain and injury. Sometimes, they quit because they do not see any results.

When people over 50 exercise in a proper way, you burn calories and increase fitness. But when you exercise in an improper way, you risk injuries. You risk burning away the protein stored in your muscles and vital organs … and the carbohydrates (sugar) which you need to supply nourishment to your nervous system and brain. But what is proper exercise?

The five basic steps to be followed at each exercise session have been proven to give optimum results and minimize the chance of injury during exercise.

1. WARM UP
Function: To prepare and “'alert” our body for the incoming physical activity.

A warm up at the beginning of an exercise session is one of the best ways to prevent pain and injury. Despite its importance, this step is often ignored by exercisers – even experienced athletes.

How To: For a proper warm up, simply perform the exercise at a slow pace for about 5 minutes (or until your pulse count is above 100 beats per minute-bpm). For example, start your brisk walk with a slow 5 minute stroll or be at your aerobics class at the beginning of the session (a good instructor will always start the class with a warm up).

2. PRE-EXERCISE STRETCH
Function: Relaxes and lengthens our muscles.

How To: Once we have warmed up our body (our pulse count is over 100 bpm), it is time to stretch the muscles we are about to use. The leg stretches and upper body Static Stretches, relax the muscles that are used for walking a track or riding a bike. Relaxed muscles tend to improve our efficiency and our performance as well as reducing our risk of injury.

3. EXERCISE
Function: To improve cardiovascular fitness and / or burn body fat.

How to: An aerobic activity such as walking, biking, swimming and Walkaerobics should increase our pulse count to 40% – 60% of our maximum heart rate. The activity should be done for 12 – 30 minutes, not more than 60 minutes per session. The Heart Rate Chart based on your resting heart rate and age determines your exercise heart rate.

4. COOL DOWN
Function: To typically return to resting state.

If we stop short after exercising, it takes time for our body to regain homeostasis. Meanwhile, our heart is still pumping at an accelerated pace and blood pools in our extremities. We get swollen fingers and feet. This causes dizziness because no blood, and therefore no oxygen, is getting to our brain.

How To: The cool down is the same as the warm up, but in reverse. Just do the exercise or previous activity at a slow, temperate pace for about 5 minutes or until your heart rate has gone down below 100 bpm.

5. POST-EXERCISE STRECH
Function: Prevents soreness and increases flexibility.

How To: This is the optimal time to static stretch. Your body is warm and your blood is pumping at a moderate pace so you can stretch further without causing an injury. Besides increasing your flexibility, stretching at this point squeezes out the excess waste products that have built up your muscles during exercise. If you do not stretch at this time, the waste buildup causes muscle soreness and fatigue.

These five phases of an cardio exercise session are condensed from proven scientific studies and the American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines ACSM. When followed at each workout they will give optimal results and minimize the chance of injury during exercise.