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I have spent hours trying to start this article so it would not be just another article about the importance of exercise, disease prevention, and health. As a trainer, I have always used the analogy of a car engine and your muscle mass to describe burning calories. The larger the car engine (muscle mass), eight cylinders vs. four cylinders, the more gas (calories) you burn to travel the same number of miles. Expanding on this will show the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on the human body.   

Think of your body as a shiny new car – your choice. I will use one of my favorites, a 1957 corvette. Let’s set up the analogy to the human body with a list of parts:

·         Car: human body

·         Gas pump/carburetor: human heart

·         Hoses and fuel lines: arteries, veins and lymphatic system

·         Gas, oil and other fluids: blood, lymphatic fluid and food/nutrition

·         Number of engine cylinders: muscle mass

·         Engine/computer system: brain

·         Driving: exercise

·         Mechanic: doctors  

Sixty years ago, this was a brand new car with a clean engine, new tires, and a pretty new paint job. It ran like a dream, and the owner was happy to drive it every day. By driving the car every day (exercise), the engine (brain) would get the gas, oil and other fluids (blood and bodily fluids) pumping through the car (body) to move the cylinders (muscles) and make the tires move the car. Everything would work well if the owner made sure the fluids were kept clean, gas tank was filled (nutrition), and the car was brought in to the mechanic (doctor) for regular tune ups. Rarely did the corvette need to go to the mechanic (doctor) for more than regular visits (annual checkups). 

As the years passed, the owner’s needs changed, family size grew, and this shiny new car spent more time in the garage (sedentary). The car was not driven (exercised) every day, and soon, things began to break. The battery (motivation) died and had to be replaced. Once the car started, she ran well, but there seemed to always be something that needed to be checked. Annual tune ups were no longer good enough.

By now, the corvette had logged thousands of miles; hoses and tires needed to be replaced, and other parts began to show wear (signs of aging including sports injuries, etc.). The paint became a little dull (body added a few pounds) and didn’t quite have the sex appeal as in years past. Trips to the mechanic became more common because of age issues with the car.

Eventually, to keep the car on the road, expensive replacement parts needed to be found. The type of fuel used when the car was new was no longer available and special additives (drugs) were needed in order for it to run properly. The end of the corvette’s days was slowly approaching. The lack of use (exercise)

This is what happens to your body over time. 

Disease/condition              Recommended cardio activity                   Recommended strength activity                  Benefits/responses

Coronary Heart Disease         >3 mph (40-80% HR)                                 2-3 days /wk                                                  Improves aerobic capacity

(CHD)                                            30-60 min  5-7 days/wk*                       Each major muscle group                            Improves Musclar strength    

                                                        Rhythmic Large Muscle groups        30-40% of one rep max (RM) for upper   Raises ischemic threshold

                                                                                                                             50-60% (RM) for lower*                               Lessens angina symptoms

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Improves endothelial function

Hypertension                             >3 mph (40-75% HR)                            Use caution with heavy lifting                    reduces Systolic BP ^^4-9 mmHg

High BP                                       30-40 Min  5-7 days/wk                    isometric resistance not recommended      reduces weight  

                                                                                                                       Each major muscle group  60-75% RM         Reduces vasoconstriction                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Reduces peripheral vascular resistance    

High Cholesterol                            40-70% HR ***                                                                                                                Reduces LDL 4-7%^^^

Dyslipidemia                                                                                                                                                                                Increases HDL 4-25%**

                                                                                                                                                                                                         Reduces adipose fat

Pulmonary Disease           Start with 3-5 days/wk                             2 days/wk

                                                 working towards 5 days/ wk                varies by individual 

                            Intensity will be individually determined based on individual’s response.

Diabetes                              5+ days/week                                              2 days / wk                                                        Enhances insulin sensitivity 
                                              Varies for Type I and Type II                    Varies per individual                                       Increases cardiovascular fitnes                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Improves glycemic control

Arthritis,                                  3-5 to most days/wk                             2-3 days/wk                                                      Improves range of motion , flexibility,

Osteo and Rheumatoid        30 min or more                                   All major muscle groups                                aerobic endurance, muscle strength

                                              Intensity varies by Individual.                  8-15 reps per muscle 

                                             Rhythmic large muscle groups               Yoga/ Tai Chi ++

                                         – walking, cycling, water workouts ++     Intensity will be based on individual level+++

Study after study shows the importance of movement and activity in our lives. Not only for weight control, but for heart health, brain activity, muscle function and strength, controlling our body functions, and overall wellbeing. See below for a table on common diseases and the impact exercise can have to help prevent, postpone and control symptoms and responses. Just like cars, our bodies are born to run. 

Please note:

^Repetition maximum (RM) is the most you can lift once. So, when it says 30-40% 1-RM, that means for your set of weightlifting, you should use a weight that is 30-40% of the most you can lift once. 

^^Systolic blood pressure (SBP) is the bottom blood pressure number.

^^^LDL is bad cholesterol. HDL is good cholesterol.


*LaForge, R., M.S. (2015). Coronary Heart Disease. In Medical Exercise Specialist Manual (p. 202). San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise

**LaForge, R. M.S. (2015) Blood Lipid Disorders, in Medical Exercise Specialist Manual (p. 224) San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise

***Galati, T., M.A.  (2015). Applying the ACE Integrated Fitness Training Model in The Medical Exercise Setting In Medical Exercise Specialist Manual (p. 50). San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise

$ LaForge, R., M.S. (2015). Coronary Heart Disease. In Medical Exercise Specialist Manual (p. 188). San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise.

$$ Kenney, W.L., Ph.D., & Alexander, L.M., Ph.D., (2015). Hypertension in Medical Exercise Specialist Manual (p. 254, 259, 264). San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise

+ Riddell, M., PhD, & Perkins, B. A., M.D., M.P.H., FRCP. (2009). Exercise and Glucose Metabolism in Persons with Diabetes Mellitus: Perspectives on the Role for Continuous Glucose Monitoring. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology From Basic Science to Clinical Practice, 914-923. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from 

++C. N. (n.d.). How to Start an Exercise Program. Retrieved March 12, 2017, from

+++ Aronen, J.G., M.D.,FACSM & Lorenz, K.A., Ph.D., CSCS, NSCA-CPT, (2015) Arthritis in Medical Exercise Specialist Manual (p 544). San Diego, CA. American Council on Exercise