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Martha Gulati, MD
Cardiologist, Northwestern University
Are there any myths, assumptions, or mistakes that people make about fitness and exercise?

Gulati: The big mistake that we see is from the New Year's warriors, who make a commitment the first 30 days to do everything right. They cut everything out and have this impossible regimen to follow. That never works.

What do women really need to know about exercise?

Gulati: We've been studying about 6,000 women from the Chicago area since 1992. We found that there is a different optimal fitness level for everyone's age group. The simplest way of describing that level is, How hard are you working out?

We measure that by metabolic equivalents, or METS. The equation you'll need to find your age-predicted fitness level is METS = 14.7 – (0.13 x age). Although METS used to be quite a foreign term, nowadays METS readers are on almost all cardio equipment. We're hoping women will begin to recognize that number, because it has huge implications for their long-term health.

We found that if you're performing at 100 percent of your age-predicted fitness level, or at least 85 percent, in ten years you're more likely to be alive than those who don't hit that level. In fact, those who are performing at less than 85 percent are twice as likely to die from any cause and, actually, two and a half times more likely to die from cardiac causes.

So if I'm on the treadmill, what number should be my goal?

Gulati: For example, a 60-year-old woman would have to reach about seven METS to achieve 100 percent of her age-predicted fitness level. So if she sees a seven on the METS area on that treadmill, she should feel pretty proud of herself. If she is not there, she should be trying to achieve it; and that, of course, requires an exercise prescription from your physician or your trainer. A 30-year-old woman who is doing seven METS is achieving only 62 percent of her age-predicted fitness level. I'd hope she would work on improving her fitness level. The following is a chart of various METS goals:

Age: 30
100 percent METS: 11
85 percent METS: 9

Age: 35
100 percent METS: 10
85 percent METS: 8.5

Age: 40
100 percent METS: 9.5
85 percent METS: 8
Age: 50
100 percent METS: 8
85 percent METS: 7

Age: 60
100 percent METS: 7
85 percent METS: 6

What can people reasonably expect to change within 30 days?

Gulati: From my clinical experience, the first 30 days are the hardest—particularly the first two weeks. Making exercise a priority, a pattern, and a part of your life is really a long-term commitment. But if you can keep with it for a month, you can keep with it forever. The first two weeks people usually feel tired, sore, and exhausted, and some feel like they are gaining weight because they are getting muscle—they're always jumping on the scale and getting discouraged. I want people to get hung up on the right numbers, like METS.

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