A message to all couch potatoes: Use it or lose it!

With the Super Bowl, Olympic Winter Games, Sonics and more this month - interest in spectator sports seems to be at an all-time high.

With more than 70 percent of Americans not regularly physically active (according to the National Center for Health Statistics), interest in actually participating in sports or exercise seems to be at an all-time low.

We are all familiar with the old saying, "use it or lose it," referring primarily to exercising the muscles of our body - I admit, I say this all the time when I am training clients. And yet I wonder how many of us take it seriously or fully realize its importance.

What if all you have done in the past 10-plus years is"sofa-surf" in front of the television or long hours typing away at your computer? Can you still become that energetic, fit individual you have always wanted to be? The answer, simply, is yes, if you choose a regular, gradually-increasing, truly committed exercise program and have some patience. Remember that you didn't become unfit overnight.

Regular daily exercise can reverse the aging process and keep you disease and injury free for a very long time.

Exercising or playing sports doesn't need to be strenuous to achieve health benefits. Whether you plan to increase your physical fitness or to help maintain or lose weight - it is important to select types of exercise that you can continue to do for a lifetime.

Making exercise a part of your lifestyle:

* Find activities that you enjoy. If you don't like running - don't do it! There are plenty of other things out there for you to do. Go climb stairs, ride a bike, walk the dog, play some ball or swim at your local pool. Finding new activities will keep you motivated and interested.

* Choose exercise options that are readily available. Choosing types of exercise that need minimal equipment, no specific venue, minimal or no ongoing costs, and no other team members makes them easy to do spontaneously - often simply by stepping out your front door - as and when some spare time arises. Brisk walking is a good example.

* Set aside some time daily just for yourself. Try to get away, even if it's just for 10 minutes. Make it a habit by working out at the same time every day.

* Vary your intensity. Soreness is normal after you first start exercising or when you try a new exercise, but pain is not desirable. Stop if you hurt. Start at the lower intensity as a beginner, then strive to increase that intensity as you become more fit.

Moderate intensity exercise such as gardening, walking around the neighborhood or playing touch football can usually be sustained for longer periods of time.

More vigorous workouts such as basketball, bicycling, or jumping rope require more energy, so shorter sessions are recommended. Also add flexibility sessions two to three days per week by doing yoga or some simple stretches.

* Join a class or social sports team. Some people like the discipline of attending a regular class or joining a social sports team and find that this helps them to exercise regularly. They also tend to try harder than they would on their own.

Check your local newspaper for local fun runs or stair climbs. Community centers and adult education colleges often offer classes in activities such as dance or Pilates as well as classes for the older exerciser or the sports enthusiast.

You can also search the Internet for local sports clubs or outdoor activity groups; most offer instruction in activities and are happy to have new members. Whatever you're interested in, there should be something out there for you.

* Choose to exercise with a friend. This way, you can hold each other accountable!

* Choose exercise that accommodates any health problems you may have. If you are over 40 or are overweight, have been inactive for a long time, have existing health problems, or have old or recent muscle, bone or joint injuries, see your doctor before starting regular exercise.

Long-term conditions such as high blood pressure can be improved by appropriate amounts of daily exercise, while the risk of developing conditions such as Type 2 diabetes or osteoporosis can be reduced. People with arthritis or fibromyalgia are often suited to exercising in a swimming pool as the buoyancy of the water avoids weight-bearing stress being placed on inflamed joints.

* You may need to invest in a personal trainer. A qualified personal trainer can help you develop a safe, effective workout plan to keep you motivated and injury-free.

I feel it is important for you to develop your own personal healthy lifestyle. Your physical health is an element of your life over which you can assert much control.

Use it or lose it!

Certified personal trainer and educator Joy Shultz can be reached at Joyjoy4all@aol.com. Weekly fitness tips at www.joyspersonaltraining.com.[[In-content Ad]]