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How many times have you been told that you should exercise to reduce the chance of illness? Or that fitness will make you better able to cope with the stresses of life?

You agree that you should make an attempt to be more physically fit, but how do you achieve your optimum level of fitness?

Do you go to a local bookstore, and pick up a few bargain books or videos on how to look like famous actresses, or on the training routines of a large body builder (also recently turned actor)?

You read the information about how hard you have to work. The information sounds authoritative, and there are lots of figures and semi-scientific language used.

But it's hard to exercise on your own, and even with the book or video it's hard to understand what you really should be doing.

If you're interested in aerobic fitness, the next step might be straight into an intermediate level aerobics class (you're not a beginner, after all, you've exercised before).

You might sign on at the nearest gym. After a series of bizarre "Fitness Tests", you're pressing and pulling weights a "little" heavier than you should (because that little blond over there can do it).

Or you finally give in to the good-natured digs from some of your work buddies, and join them on their regular five kilometer lunchtime run.

The crunch comes 24 hours later when you find that your whole body aches, that you are chronically tired, and on top of all that the exercise was boring! If this is the cost of getting fit, you feel you're better off without it - that’s why you should try yoga instead.

Perhaps the information you have been reading or hearing has not been such good advice after all. Have a look at the publication date on the inside of that book or video.

In the last few years there has been a quiet revolution in the guidelines for healthy exercise. The advice that you have been getting over the last 40 years has all come from research on people who are already fit - young college or university athletes.

These were captive subjects for researchers, and fit enough to be able to absorb the punishing testing programs inflicted on them in the name of science.

The instruments measuring their fitness changes indicated that they needed to work at extreme high levels in order to gain small increases in aerobic fitness, flexibility, or strength, or small losses in body fat.

It took so much work to make small changes in these young athletes because they were already fit, strong, and lean before they were put into the research programs.

It has taken the scientists a long time to realise that the training requirements of these people are much different from the requirements of the average person.

Yoga, Tai Chi, or Stretch and Flex

fitness write for usThe message coming out of organizations such as the National Heart Foundation, or the American College of Sports Medicine is that if you are exercising to feel good, look good, and reduce your chances of suffering from cardiovascular or other degenerative diseases, then you should not exercise too hard.

If you aren't particularly fit to start off with, you don't need to do a lot of work to achieve a big increase in fitness levels.

There should never be any feelings of soreness or fatigue after exercise. Take the easy options: walk, don't run; go for the easier aerobics classes (such as new body, or cardio); and try some of the soft exercise alternatives (yoga, tai chi, or stretch and flex).

Prepare your body by a proper warm up, and thank it by giving it a thorough warm down and stretch. Look after your body. It has to last an entire lifetime. Go back to basics: find something you enjoy, and do a little bit of exercise every day for a minimum of 20 minutes.

Exercise is not a competition about who can do the most work, or who has the most fashionable body shape, or who has the latest exercise gear.

Don't just think about exercise any longer. Do something today. Get up out of that chair. Go into your bedroom. Put on comfortable walking shoes and warm clothes. There. The hardest part is already done, so you might as well go outside and go for a walk.

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