Get Your Heart in Shape
To get any part of your body to be a little stronger and work a little more efficiently, you have to challenge it to push past its usual working capacity. Aerobic activities push the heart, thereby increasing its pumping abilities and helping to keep heart disease at bay.
At a minimum, you should try to engage in aerobic activities three days a week, for 30 minutes at a time. (You can break it up into three 10-minute sessions or two 15-minute sessions at first.) Optimally, you'll work up to five or six days a week, for 30-plus minutes each session.
Jogging, swimming, bicycling, working out on a machine such as a cross-country ski machine, stair stepper or elliptical trainer, dancing (but not to slow dances like the fox trot), aerobics classes… All work great! Just note that if you want to improve the state of your bones as you improve the state of your heart, you have to be standing as you exercise.
Bicycling and swimming are great for the heart but will not make the bones denser. Some women prefer cross training: walking or jogging some days and swimming on others. That allows for great full-body workouts. Swimming, for instance, works the muscles in the arms in a way that walking does not.
Strength training should be incorporated into your schedule two to three days a week. There are essentially two ways to do it: by lifting weights with moves like the overhead press and the biceps curl, or by using resistance machines. Most people don't have resistance machines in their homes, so it usually requires going to a health club or fitness center. You need to decide which you prefer: the privacy of your own home or the companionship you'll often find at fitness centers. Some women like a combination.
Even if you don't join a fitness center or gym, you may want to pay for a few day passes to get a trainer to help you learn some strength training moves—how to isolate the proper muscles as you lift a weight or push on a machine, how to lift safely, and so on.
It's important to lift or push against the right amount of weight. Too little and you're not challenging your muscles enough. Too much, and you're setting yourself up for injury. The right amount of weight to push or lift is an amount that you can move 10 to 12 times in good form before you have to stop. If you can do the move more times than that, the weight is too light. If you can't do it that many times, the weight is too heavy.
Never strength-train a particular set of muscles two days in a row. Muscles need a day off between strength-training sessions to heal the little micro-tears that enable them to grow stronger. (It is okay to do the same aerobic exercise two days in a row.)
You should engage in five minutes of stretching, or flexibility training, after every exercise session. (You don't want to stretch before you exercise because if you're not warmed up, you'll risk "snapping" your "rubberbands" before they're "loose.")
Each stretch should be performed twice, with slow and deliberate movements. And each stretch should be held for 20 to 30 seconds. It may produce a little discomfort at first, but it feels good after you've been doing it a while.
Good stretches include the hamstring stretch, the cross-over stretch for your buttocks and hips, the quadriceps stretch, and the shoulder stretch.