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 Self-Care: A Field Guide to Exercise 


I probably would have given up my exercise program altogether if I hadn't learned to monitor my pulse, and if I hadn't stumbled onto what I've come to call Ferguson's Law.

Ferguson's Law: Go For Satisfaction.

Ferguson's Law states that it's best to save all your will power and discipline for getting yourself out on the track or road or trail. Once you're there—indulge yourself. Go for satisfaction, not for accomplishment. Do whatever you need to do to make walking or running fun. The freedom to do it any damn way you please is your reward for being out there at all. For that mile or that half hour or whatever your chosen time or distance, you are free. You can skip or hop or sing or dance, make faces or funny noises or take your shoes off and walk around on the grass—whatever feels good.

The last thing you need is to become a slave-driver, a hard task-master, driving yourself to "perform." Our bodies have a wisdom of their own. What you want is to relax your will power and let your body do what it wants.

Starting Out
The hardest part of a new exercise program is the first step out the door. Once you're out, the keynote is slow and steady. The kind of exercise that works best is the kind that fits naturally into the rhythm of your day. I slip in half an hour of running between the time I get up and my morning shower.

The least effective way is to plan to exercise after you've finished everything else. You'll end up putting it off. Likewise for those who feel they can never "find time" to exercise. You don't find the time, you make the time.

Nearly all the people I know who exercise regularly, do so on a regular schedule. If you use a planning or appointment calendar, go through your week and write "walking" or "running" in at the appropriate time. If a meeting or a visit is going to run into your exercise time, you can, in good conscience, excuse yourself. You have a very important appointment.

I'd suggest starting with half an hour three times a week—or even less. Pick a distance and a pace that is comfortable and enjoyable and don't increase it by more than 10 or 15 percent per week. If you have a friend who walks or runs, go out together. And don't feel you have to start and end together. If you both go your own pace for fifteen minutes, then turn around and head back, you'll end up where you started at about the same time.

For most people who are not already running, it's probably best to start with walking. Once you're walking regularly for half an hour or more five times a week, then, if you like, you can increase your pace to a slow jog.

Your Target Pulse
In the early stages, use your target pulse only to make sure that you are not exercising too strenuously. Do not push yourself to reach your target pulse, but use it as a mark that you don't exceed.

Dr. Laurence Morehouse, who developed the fitness training program for the Skylab astronauts, suggests the following guidelines for calculating your target pulse:

  • If you are in poor condition, take 150 and subtract your age.
  • If you are in fair condition, take 170 and subtract your age.
  • If you are in excellent condition, take 190 and subtract your age.

As you become accustomed to taking your pulse, you may find it easier to divide your target pulse by 6. This gives you your target pulse per ten seconds.

Let's take me, for example. When I started out, I was in fair condition and I was 33. 170 minus 33 is 137. 137 divided by 6 is 22.8, which rounds off to 23. 23 beats per ten seconds was my target pulse when I started. I would stop from time to time as I was running, find my pulse, and count how many times my heart beat in ten seconds. If it was more than 23—as it all-too-frequently was—I took it as a message from my heart, telling me to slow down. On the rare occasions when it was significantly below 23, I considered—but did not necessarily choose—the option of going a little faster.

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 About The Author
Tom Ferguson MDTom Ferguson, M.D. (1943-2006), was a pioneering physician, author, and researcher who virtually led the movement to advocate informed self-care as the starting point for good health. Dr. Ferguson studied and wrote......more
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