What you get when you get moving

Want to start exercising but don’t know how long it will take to see results? Some benefits start almost immediately; others take longer. Here’s a time-line, prepared with the help of exercise physiologist John Duncan, Ph.D., a professor of clinical research at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, of the benefits of doing three 30-minute aerobic sessions each week. (If you work out longer or more often, your benefits will be even greater.)

AFTER 1 WEEK

week1Fitness: Expect about a 1-percent boost in your endurance (you’ll feel more energized), as well as a drop of about 1 beat per minute in your resting heart rate (which means your heart muscle is already getting stronger, pumping more blood with each stroke).

Weight: If you were at least 25 percent overweight before you started and are now on a sensible diet, count on shedding up to 2 pounds. For others, no discernible weight loss…yet.

1monthAFTER 1 MONTH

Fitness: You’ll be up to a 4-percent increase in your aerobic capacity – the amount of oxygen your body is able to process and consume during exercise. (When you run up stairs, for instance, you won’t feel as out of breath as you used to.) Plus there’ll be a total drop of about 4 beats per minute in your resting heart rate. (A fit rate hovers between 50 and 70.)

Weight: Another 4 to 6 pounds will come off if you began 25 percent overweight and are eating right. Others will shed perhaps 1 to 2 pounds. Also, expect improved muscle tone.

Blood Pressure: If you started with higher than normal blood pressure and/or were overweight, you’ll see a total drop of 5 to 7 points in your systolic pressure (the top number, which measures the maximum pressure produced in the large arteries by each heartbeat), and a 1- or 2-point drop in your diastolic pressure (the bottom number, which measures the constant pressure maintained in the arteries between heartbeats). That’s a clear sign that blood is flowing more easily to your muscles and vital organs.

AFTER 3 MONTHS

3months“At this point, it’s as if someone flipped a switch,” says Duncan. “The health-promoting changes really start kicking in.”

Fitness: Now, oxygen-burning capabilities will be a total of 10 to 15 percent higher. Your resting heart rate will drop, on average, another 5 to 7 beats.

Weight: If you started out 25 percent overweight and are eating right, you’ll have shed a total of 12 to 17 pounds. Others will see a more modest (perhaps 5- to 10-pound) loss. Muscles will now be a bit larger and more toned. To see more significant changes in muscle tone, add weight training.

Blood Pressure: You’ll be up to a 7- to 12-point drop in systolic pressure, and a 3- to 8-point drop in diastolic pressure.

Cholesterol: Perhaps you’ll see a slight reduction in total cholesterol levels, but more importantly, there will be a definite (3 percent) rise in “good” HDL cholesterol, vital for preventing plaque buildup in arteries. For every 1 percent rise in HDL levels, you lower your risk of heart disease by 3 percent.

AFTER 6 MONTHS

6monthHere’s when you’ll feel the greatest gains in health and fitness, Duncan says.

Fitness: You’ll be up to a 15 to 20 percent improvement in your aerobic capacity. Your resting heart rate will have dropped a total of 10 to 15 beats per minute. Now, it’ll take you only 3 to 4 minutes to “recover” after a workout-more proof that you’re using oxygen more efficiently.

Weight: The formerly overweight can expect a total of up to 30 pounds off. Otherwise, the scale may not show much more of a drop – muscle weighs more than fat – but your pants will fit less snugly.

Blood Pressure: There will be a total reduction of 8 to 15 points in your systolic pressure, and 4 to 10 points in your diastolic pressure.

Cholesterol: You’ll see a 5 to 10 percent increase in HDL levels, often enough to change your readings from abnormal to normal.

AFTER 1 YEAR

1yearFitness: You’ll be 18 to 25 percent better at burning oxygen than when you started. For even more improvement, work out longer and/or more frequently.

Weight: Because it now takes fewer calories to maintain your body weight, your weight will remain about the same. To lose more, exercise more or decrease your calorie consumption.

Blood Pressure: Expect a total drop of 8 to 18 points in your systolic pressure, and up to 10 points in your diastolic pressure.

Cholesterol: HDL levels will have increased a total of 12 to 15 percent – enough, usually, to extend your life expectancy by a couple of years.

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