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Sweat equity?

You run 10 miles a day. That's exercise.

How about a brisk two-mile walk? Sure, that's exercise, too.

Let's really dial it back. A 10-minute stroll through the park. Does that qualify as exercise? Or is it simply "being active"?

Some people maintain that you're not exercising unless you're sweating.

"That's not true," said Richard Simmons, a guy who knows something about sweating. (Remember his "Sweatin' to the Oldies" exercise video? It has sold 25 million copies and is still going strong.) "Some people sweat more than others. I'm a sweater."

He detailed his morning workout, which starts at 4:30 a.m.: stretches, 100 pushups, 300 sit-ups, 800 leg lifts, jumping jacks, running in place. It was exhausting just to hear about it.

"Within 30 minutes I am a pool of sweat," he said.

Dr. Ian K. Smith, physician, TV personality and author of "The 4-Day Diet" (St. Martin's Press), is in Simmons' perspiration-soaked corner on this one.

"It's a big misperception that the degree to which you sweat correlates to the degree to which you are exercising or working out. It's just not true," he said. "We all have different sweat thresholds, so that's not a good indication whether we're truly receiving benefits from the exercise."

So working yourself into a sweaty mess may look impressive, but it may not be necessary. A good cardiovascular workout, like that 10-mile run, is great, experts say. But they also say there are other steps people can and should take to improve the state of their health.

The benefits of exercise are determined by many variables: age, level of conditioning, past conditioning. Smith gave the example of an 80-year-old who walks a 15-minute mile. That's much more beneficial than a 15-minute mile turned in by someone who is 40.

Celebrity trainer Jay Cardiello, a certified strength and conditioning coach and certified sports nutritionist, said it is all about improving your health.

"They generally say it takes 20 days before you notice a difference, but automatically your body will start improving internally right away," he said. "You have to take a step back and say, 'What is happening today internally?' Well, you've revved up your heart, your immune system is strengthened. You sweat out some toxins, you're giving (your body) the foundation for increased bone density, you're increasing flexibility, increasing your stamina, you're more alert so you're more prone to eating healthier and you sleep better."

Smith believes that a person should work himself up to a moderate intensity of exercise, as judged by heart rate. The goal is to get the heart rate elevated and keep it elevated to maximize the cardiovascular benefits.

"We like to talk about your max heart rate, which is typically 220 minus your age," Smith said. "That is the maximum your heart can go during a workout, but we like to keep people underneath that. So if you go about 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, that is typically around where you'll be maximizing yourself."

But again, a workout doesn't have to be exhausting. Cardiello offers a simple morning exercise routine that almost anyone can try.

"Stand on your right leg while brushing your teeth, then wash your mouth out, spit, and brush again while you stand on the opposing leg," Cardiello said. "That's exercise. It works your core, stabilizing muscle, and it allows your body to create symmetry or balance for the right and left side."

He also suggests dancing around as you prepare for work.

"You'll burn 50, 60 calories even before you start your day," he said. "You put the music on, it puts you in a good emotional setting. It's a good cardiovascular exercise, you are increasing your bone density because you're stepping down on the ground. So that's exercise."

Something else to remember: It takes more than burning calories to lose weight and get in shape.

"I always say there are four parts to exercise: nutrition, spiritual, emotional and physical," Cardiello said. "And the biggest matrix is what you eat."

Simmons said he used to believe that dieting by itself could make a person look great. But after 35-plus years in the fitness business, he sees things differently.

"Unfortunately, as you lose weight, skin hangs if you don't get exercise, your posture gets terrible, your energy level goes down, your muscles get sort of old looking. And your body doesn't look like it matches your age," said the 62-year-old Simmons, who teaches regular fitness classes at Slimmons, his Beverly Hills, Calif., studio. "But if you take those same people who are starting a food program like at my studio, and they do cardio four days a week, all of a sudden they see muscles where flab used to be. They see tighter skin, they see better posture, they feel these strong bones.

"You can't get that by eating grapefruit and oatmeal. You gotta do a workout."

There is, of course, the danger of overdoing things in the pursuit of fitness. A workout regimen should start slowly. Remember Simmons' perspiration-filled morning schedule?

"I had to work up to that," he said. "You don't just get up one day and say, 'Oh, I want to do this.' ''

So the intensity should be increased gradually. The key is not to go too far. Taking your exercise program to total exhaustion -- Smith uses the example of a marathon runner who collapses at the 23rd mile --- can lead to injury. After working out, you'll know if you reached the maximum by that burning in your muscles or lungs. That's reasonable exhaustion, and the more familiar you become with physical activity, the better you know when you have reached that maximum range, Smith said.

Cardiello said one way of judging the intensity of a runner's or walker's activity is the talk test.

"Just talk and you'll know. It's one of the best indicators," he said. "Say we're going for a walk, and all of a sudden I'm gasping. I'm exerting a lot of energy, the intensity level is high, and I'm having trouble completing sentences. If you're having an easy conversation, conversing with your exercise partner, you may have to pick up the intensity."

Nutrition and exercise are important. But so is the mental aspect. Simmons suggests keeping a journal. Plot your day, hour by hour, looking for ways to grab a few minutes here and there for working out and preparing proper meals. Focus on your goal.

"It all boils down to someone's self-worth," he said. "If you feel worthy of being healthy, you'll get up early and get your workouts in. If you start to respect your body, you won't put greasy food in and clog your arteries. It seems like such a simple formula, but people have so much past luggage."

And don't give up.

"I hear every excuse," Simmons said. "All of a sudden it's Dec. 31 and they're holding the last rum ball in their hand, and they're going into 2011 heavier than they were in 2010. And that starts a negative year."

What you can accomplish in 5 minutes

Justin Price, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Functional Training" (Penguin), said five minutes can be beneficial.

It depends on what you're after.

To decrease stress: Go for a five-minute walk.

To get cardiovascular benefits: Climb stairs. "It will elevate your heart rate very quickly and improve your function as well."

To improve strength: Do dynamic stretching, or stretching with movement. "Such things as bending over to touch the toes, reaching up over your head, bending side to side with your arms over your head."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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