Stronger heart, better body may be just a step away


Step aerobics is one of the latest fitness fads to hit the United States. Highly effective in helping make you fit and slim, step aerobics doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment. Plus, it's a lot of fun!

I'm frequently asked to name the best exercise out there to get fit. My answer is simple -- any exercise that can raise your pulse rate above 90 beats a minute and keep it there for at least 10 continuous minutes. Step aerobics meets those criteria.

The single stimulus for strengthening a muscle is to exercise that muscle against increasing resistance. When your heart muscle relaxes, it fills with blood. It then contracts to squeeze blood out to the rest of your body. During exercise, your heart contains large amounts of blood and has to contract against increased resistance. Thus, it becomes stronger. As far as your heart is concerned, it doesn't make any difference what exercise you do as long as that goal is accomplished.

In step aerobics, you raise yourself up and down on a small platform or step. A 6- to 10-inch step is ideal. Step up with one foot, then the other, then down with the first foot and down with the second. Do this every other day, for as long as you can until your legs feel heavy or hurt. Gradually, you should be able to work up to 20 to 30 minutes of stepping. After that, try to go faster. (But you don't need to spend any more time at it.)

Since you use primarily the big quadriceps and hamstring muscles in your upper legs to raise yourself up on a step, these muscles can tire easily. Many people can't do it for more than a few minutes; therefore, they cannot keep going for the minimum of 10 minutes necessary for fitness. However, if they continue to use their steps, their upper leg muscles will become strong enough for them to exercise longer.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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