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Are excuses holding you back from getting into shape? Are you too busy with work and family? Is the weather a problem? Treadmill exercise may be just the thing that wipes out your excuses and puts you on the road to good health and fitness.

With a treadmill, even excuses about being uncoordinated fly out of the window because the only sporty skill you need is something you already do all day long -- walk. The weather isn't a problem and neither is boredom. Place your treadmill in your home, perhaps in front of the television or a picture window, and put on those walking shoes.

What is treadmill exercise?

A treadmill is a machine that essentially allows you to walk or jog "in place." One of the best reasons to take your walking program inside is because on a treadmill you can maintain the pace of your stride easily. Plus, you can get the benefits of aerobic exercise without leaving your home.

Advantages of treadmill exercise

While there are many indoor exercise machines on the market, few compare to treadmills when it comes to health benefits and burning calories, an essential part of losing weight and getting in shape. In one study, treadmills easily outpaced an exercise bicycle, a rowing machine and a cross-country skiing machine.

A group of volunteers at the Milwaukee Veterans Administration Hospital did a series of workouts on different machines, each time exercising at what felt like the same intensity. Researchers used a special device to measure the number of calories burned. The treadmill allowed the individuals to burn up to 200 calories per hour more than the bicycle ergometer, which had the lowest energy expenditure, said the researchers.

The average medium-intensity treadmill workout burned 700 calories per hour, compared to just 500 calories per hour on the exercise bike. One reason for the difference is the amount of muscle mass that is used in both exercises.

Burning calories is a great benefit of treadmill exercise, but it's not the only reason to consider this type of workout. Walking is an excellent form of exercise for people with certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis, hypertension and back pain. For these, as well as those of us who aren't crazy about going to a gym, the flexibility of a treadmill can be very exciting. Further, a treadmill adds consistency to your walking workout because many models allow you to maintain speed and intensity throughout your entire workout.

According to research conducted by the Harvard Medical School, walking 45 minutes five times a week can cut your chances of getting a flu or cold in half.

Also, while some aerobic activities can be risky during pregnancy, walking has many benefits. Hormonal changes caused by pregnancy can loosen ligaments. Walking helps to tone muscles and strengthen joints that support a growing baby.

Treadmills have numerous features that allow you, for instance, to change the MPH or elevate the grade. Further, most models have options to determine calories burned, time elapsed and distance traveled.

An adequate display panel allows you to keep track of workouts (e.g. time and MPH), which in turn allows you to easily monitor progress.

Finally, if you are just looking to get in shape, walking or jogging on a treadmill improves muscle tone all over your body. Strengthened muscles means the heart can pump more oxygen-rich blood with each step you take.

Buying a treadmill

You've probably heard the jokes about how a treadmill often becomes a stylish place to hang your laundry once the well-intentioned exerciser throws in the towel. As with anything else, if you are going to start an exercise routine, you need to invest not only time but also willpower. If you think the flexibility and ease that comes with treadmill exercise is for you, by all means start a program and stick to it.

You might want to check out the treadmills in a local gym before investing the money into purchasing one for your home. Many gyms and health clubs will allow you to sign up month-by-month. This is a great way to see if you not only love treadmill exercise but if you are in the right state of mind to get fit.

Once you've decided to take the plunge and buy a treadmill, there are many options and price ranges. You can purchase a simple man-powered treadmill; you do all the work because there is no electricity helping you to keep pace. More sophisticated models will automatically adjust the incline or decline to keep your heart rate within a preset target zone and let you know when you should change speed. Some also have custom programs and sophisticated computer graphics. Costs fluctuate from model to model, but as with any other equipment purchase, the more options and bells and whistles, the higher the price tag will be.

Before purchasing a treadmill, take the time to shop around. Find a salesperson who knows the machines, and start asking questions.

Here are some other things to check out when you're shopping for a treadmill:

  • Don't forget to consider safety issues such as handrails and automatic shutdown features.

  • You should also decide where in your home you are going to keep the treadmill and consider size and storability when making your decision.

  • Make sure the range of speed suits your workout level.

  • Check out the walking surface. Is it wide enough for you? Is it comfortable?

  • Consider the readout panel. Does the display panel provide information that is useful? Do you need digital? Are the buttons and knobs easy for you to read and use?

Additional treadmill gear

The best part about treadmill exercise is that you don't need a special wardrobe to get started. Now that you have a treadmill, you probably already own the only other thing you need to start working out on your treadmill today: walking shoes or sneakers.

The American Podiatric Medical Association offers these tips for choosing a pair of walking shoes:

  • Choose shoes of good quality that are lightweight with breathable upper materials, such as leather or nylon mesh

  • Make sure the shoes fit well - have both shoes fitted for length and width wearing the socks you'll be using for walking

  • Get socks that are padded with acrylic fiber (keeps excess perspiration away)

  • Make sure the shoes have good arch support

  • Get shoes that have cushioning at the heel counter that does not bite into the heel or touch the ankle bones

Starting your program

Treadmill exercise is convenient. You can do it at your own pace, and unless you choose to use a treadmill in a gym, you will be in the comfort of your own home with no one around except for Fluffy or Spot to watch you exercise.

If you are new to exercising, start slow and build up your time and speed. Experienced exercisers can pick up the pace more quickly. The key is to go at your own speed and to set a program you can stick with. The benefits of treadmill exercise come from maintaining a walking program, not from jumping on and running a five-minute mile twice a month.

Start out by warming up for five to 10 minutes. As with any exercise, a good warm-up and cool-down are essential to an injury-free workout.

Beginners should start slow and walk at a comfortable pace for 10 to 15 minutes and gradually increase your pace. Always check with your doctor before you begin this or any exercise program and ask how much and how fast you should walk.

To get the most out of your treadmill workout, you want to get to the point that you are walking in your "target heart rate zone." To get the aerobic benefit from the exercise, you must walk in your target heart rate zone.

To figure out whether you are exercising in your heart rate target zone:

  • Stop exercising.

  • Take your pulse at your neck, wrist or chest, wrist recommended. Place the tips of your index and middle fingers over your vein and press lightly. Take a 60-second count of heartbeats or a 30-second count and multiply that by 2.

  • Subtract your age from 220 to get your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). Your target zone should be between 50 percent and 70 percent of your MHR.

Exercise guidelines

As with anything else in life, you get the most enjoyment and benefit out of the activities that you perform properly. Treadmill exercise is no exception. According to the American College of Sports Medicine:

  • Before you get on the treadmill, make sure you know how to work all the controls, such as speeding up, slowing down, changing the incline and emergency off.

  • Use correct posture when walking, with shoulders back, head and chin up and slightly forward, and tighten your abdominal muscles. Look forward, not down.

  • Use the same stride you normally use when walking.

  • Stay in position - don't go off to the side or the back.

  • Try to use your treadmill at the same time of day for a certain amount of minutes and make it part of your daily routine.

*Article taken from Health A to Z.
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