If you have been reading these articles on exercise for the last year, you know how important exercise is for everyone in general, and how mandatory it is, in particular, for the diabetic. It is one of the three pronged approaches to control diabetes and as importantly, to control long term complications of the disease. It is a pleasant way to prolong life, ward off disease, reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and the common cold. Regular exercise can help control stress, depression, sleep disorders, and anxiety. The good news is that exercise can be something you do in a gym, in the garden, or just outside taking a brisk walk, but you have to do it to get the benefits.
At this time of the year with the combination of gift giving and changing weather we may be looking at one or two of the slew of machines on which you can huff and puff your way into fitness. Some exercise equipment costs very little and is relatively easy to use. For example, a set of relatively simple plastic steps which come with a video, elastic bands, a set of free weights, or a slide board, which is essentially a slippery floor mat, can cost between $20 to $100, and can provide a pretty good aerobic workout or toning and sculpting session. Health clubs, stores, and TV infomercials offer more expensive exercisers. Most of these machines, from exercise bikes to rowing machines, are designed to boost cardiovascular fitness. Home gyms and their sophisticated health-club versions, are meant to help tone and strengthen specific muscle groups.
It’s best to do your homework before making a big purchase. For every exercise bike, stair climber, or other piece of equipment that is bought, you can well imagine a dust collector or very expensive clothing rack in two months time. You’ll minimize this possibility if you try out equipment, research your options, talk to friends about what they use, and even have a chat with your heath care team about what people report sticking with over the years. If you decide you’d like home exercise equipment, first it’s good to go into the process knowing that you probably won’t be able to buy the quality of machines at the health club since professional equipment generally costs thousands of dollars and most of us do not have the space for large professional equipment at home.
Also, it is a truth, that cheap machines are usually not very effective or durable as a rule, but if you shop carefully and are willing to spend several hundred dollars per machine, you can find well designed equipment that will give you a good workout at home. Here we will examine stair climbers, cross country ski machines, home gyms, exercise bikes and treadmills. As we have warned before, please be an informed consumer before paying out your money for a ‘miracle’ machine. All exercise equipment comes with pros and cons, but once you make up your mind that you need to begin a program, have visited with you doctor or care team to ascertain your needs and level of fitness, and how to exercise in a safe and progressive way, it’s time to go for it with a personal trainer, video tape, or exercise group. As the saying goes, ‘just do it.’
These allow you to enjoy the workout you’d get from climbing an endless set of steps, with none of the practical drawbacks, such as stopping to pick up children’s toys, your partner’s clothes, or the newspaper. You can program your exercise to increase intensity by increasing the speed you have to step and height of the step. While you can spent a few thousand dollars for a home step climber, you can find models from $200 to $500. You want a machine that has steps that move independently of each other. Some step climbers are dual action, that is they exercise both arms and legs. Those in the know suggest to look at machines with independent steps as they are smoother and offer a more challenging workout. Make sure you check if you can vary the resistance and if this is easy to do. Models in health clubs can be programmed to do this automatically, but also cost several thousand dollars. Do check out if the pedals and handles fit well and if the machine is comfortable for you before you purchase it.
Cross-country ski machines:
These machines offer a low impact aerobic workout that tones muscles throughout the body. Your feet glide back and forth on roller mounted boards or foot pads and your hands move to and fro holding on to poles that pivot, or telescope in and out, or handles connected to a rope and pulley. On some machines the motion of the skis is linked, that is when one ski moves forward, the other moves backward. On other machines the skis move independently. Cross-country ski machines cost between $200 and $800 plus. The independent machines are harder to master, but offer a more authentic ski motion and a more vigorous workout. Do check out the machine’s ability to be adjusted for resistance and angle of incline without the need to dismount. This is one of those machines that you really need to try out at the store. They can be very cumbersome in size. We own one that collapses so that it can be placed against a wall or under a very high bed or sofa, but do take a tape measure to make sure the ski machine you choose will fit into the space you have.
Home gyms allow you to tone and build muscle with a variety of exercises and to do this without using free weights. Some home gyms allow you to quickly and easily switch exercises thus allowing for a mildly aerobic workout through ‘circuit training,’ the term used when you perform different exercises in rapid succession. At the gym each exercise will be done at a different machine, while these home gyms have different exercises at different stations on one machine. Home gyms can be expensive, up to a few thousand dollars, and create resistance in a variety of ways, including weights, rubber bands, shock absorbers, and centrifugal brakes. With these machines you usually get more exercise levels and more durability if you spend more. Look for models that make it easy and comfortable to switch from one exercise to another. Many of these machines are complicated and difficult to assemble so look for a store that will do this job.
Exercise bikes, unlike their outdoor cousins, are not for travel, but they are very popular for home exercise. A good one can be had for under $500 but vary according to the type and extras up to $1,000. Dual-action bikes are supposed to exercise both upper and lower body muscles as you peddle and pump the handlebars. The wheel is usually in a wire cage for safety and the only way to get more resistance is to peddle harder. The second type of exercise bike looks more like a regular bike only it’s stationary and when you pedal you turn a heavy flywheel. You can adjust the tension from a more leisurely ride to a difficult workout.
One benefit to these upright bikes is that they take up less floor space than the dual action or the third type of bike, the recumbent exercise bike. This third type of exercise bike has a seat more like the bucket seat of a car and you sit with you legs out in front of you so that you extend them to reach the pedals. This is a good machine for those of us who are overweight as it is more comfortable than the upright bikes. Once again, you adjust the flywheel to get more resistance and more of a workout. All three styles can give you a good aerobic workout but with the regular exercise and recumbent bikes you have the capacity to change the difficulty of peddling. When buying any bike make sure to check the padding of the seat as some may become uncomfortable quickly, thus defeating your desire to exercise. Also remember that the dual action bike with its big wheel is very noisy making watching TV or having a conversation difficult.
There are two types of treadmills on the market, motorized and non-motorized. Let us begin by saying that if you like to walk or jog and want to do these inside, forget the non-motorized treadmills, and begin and end with the motorized ones. The only way to make non-motorized treadmills move is with your own legs and, to make the belt go, you are forced into an uncomfortable inclining stance while pushing off against the hand rails. There is no way to jog on one of these babies as the belt is not long enough. To make matters worse, some of these can cost as much as a motorized machine so lets look at motorized treadmills. Motorized treadmills keep you going steadily as the pace you select. On some machines you can program in hills and a series of sprints and walks. If you slip, most machines have a safety key that will yank out and stop the machine.
To get on the machine, most start slowly. It is best to straddle the belt and then get on. Drawbacks to some treadmills are that they are large and that they use a lot of electricity. Good treadmills do not come cheap, but they are likely to be used for a long time. Do expect to pay at least $1,500 and probably more for one with the bells and whistles you need to keep you interested and the machinery to make the machine comfortable to use.
Before you decide on a treadmill you may want to examine what you will be using it for. Are you going to jog? This cuts down on the models you can buy as many do not go fast enough for a run. You will want to know how easy it is to vary the speed and incline of the treadmill. All of us know how hard it gets during a treadmill test where the incline is significant and the speed just keeps on being ratcheted up. Other important questions to ask are about the belt’s ability to absorb impact, and the sense of security and safety you feel while using the machine. You need to decide who is going to use the machine besides you, their needs, how big the machine is so that you may have to consider one that folds away, and lastly and very important around our home, who will assemble this machine.
To get information about exercise machines you can look at back issues of consumers’ magazines and speak to people at exercise equipment stores. When we did this and shared the topic of this article, every person we spoke to asked us to share a warning about infomercial machines like riders, crunchers etc. These, they say do not give you anything that comes close to a good aerobic workout. Now, I am just repeating what the ‘experts’ say, but do your homework before spending a lot of money on something that will become an expensive clothes hanger or dust collector.
One other thought, and that is you might look into giving a year’s membership in a gym to yourself or loved one. Here, hospitals have wonderful health clubs with trained professionals who will help you set up a program and follow your progress. Doctors are available and fitness tests are given before you join. They have all of the machines you will need to shape up, plus, pools, squash courts, aerobic classes, healthy restaurants, and more, including people who are potential friends. (Look for more on this next month.)
You made it through the exercise machines maze. Congratulations. Now go measure the room, find a store that specializes in these machines, do some reading on the subject and start out the new year with an exercise program. You won’t be sorry.