An immense contributor to this “feel good” spirit of so many Pritikin devotees is the Pritikin Exercise Program. Certainly, exercise is good for us for numerous medical reasons, such as burning calories, boosting weight loss, and protecting against heart disease. But regular exercise also does wonders for our emotional health, staving off depression and anxiety, reducing stress, and helping us feel our best each and every day.
A recent well-designed clinical trial of 430 women published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the more the women exercised, the greater their overall quality of life, including their daily energy levels, social life, stress levels, and emotional well-being.
For optimal health and well-being, the Pritikin Exercise Program teaches a comprehensive approach involving three different facets:
- Cardiovascular Conditioning,
- Strength Training, and
Though all encompassing, each element of the program is designed to be simple, practical, and easy to follow. The program also accommodates all levels of fitness – from those who have never been in a formal exercise program to professional athletes, including Olympians. “To achieve my maximum level of fitness, Pritikin is the perfect plan,” says Pritikin Alum Amy Yoder-Begley, member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic track team as a 10,000-meter runner.
Below is a synopsis of each of the three parts of the Pritikin Exercise Program:
1. Cardiovascular (Aerobic) Conditioning
No question about it, cardiovascular conditioning (ideally, every day) keeps not only our hearts but also our bodies fit. The most comprehensive study of long-term weight loss ever conducted, the National Weight Control Registry, found that the vast majority of its 4,500 successful losers averaged about 60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, every day. (Brisk, as President Harry Truman so deftly defined it, is “walking as if you have somewhere to go.”)
The Registry participants lost, on average, 66 pounds and kept them off during the entire six-year study.
Types of aerobic exercise include walking, rowing, aerobic dancing, cross-country skiing, jogging, stair climbing, swimming, and bicycling – anything, in short, that revs ups your heart rate, moving your large muscles in a continuous rhythmic manner.
The Pritikin Exercise Program recommends 20 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular conditioning 6 days a week (7 days if you are diabetic), at 70 to 80% of your maximum predicted heart rate, also known as your Target Heart Rate Zone. (Do make sure to warm up before your cardiovascular conditioning as well as cool down afterwards with 5 to 10 minutes of slower movement — a pace below your Target Heart Rate.)
At the Pritikin Longevity Center, the doctors and exercise physiologists use the results of each guest’s cardiometabolic stress test to determine each guest’s Target Heart Rate Zone.
2. Strength Training
“The benefits of strength training are priceless,” emphasizes Scott Danberg, MS, Director of Exercise at the Pritikin Longevity Center, and include a leaner body, an easier time losing weight, stronger bones, more power, and better coordination.
What’s most amazing is that you start to feel – and see – the benefits very quickly, often within just one to two months. One GREAT benefit of strength training is that it burns fat. As we get older, muscle tends to be replaced by fat. “But flab is not inevitable,” stresses Scott Danberg. “Strength training can help you retain lean body mass – and build more.”
Pritikin Program guidelines for strength training are simple and practical. With just two to three 20-minute sessions per week, you achieve a full body workout using eight basic exercises.
You can use any type of resistance (such as free weights, elastic bands, or weight machines), as long as you’re comfortable with it. Try to pick a weight that gives you a “somewhat-hard to hard routine, or what I call a ‘meaningful weight,'” says Scott.
Pumping out one set (for example, doing just 12 bicep curls) is a great start. But certainly, two or three sets (24 or 36 bicep curls in total) brings even more gains.
To give your muscles enough time to rest and recover between strength training workouts, do not exercise on consecutive days, for example, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Allow at least 48 hours between sessions.
Also, do not forget to stretch either after strength training or between exercises, or both.
In our 20s and 30s, it’s easy to forgo a regular stretching routine because, well, nothing creaks. But then, out of nowhere, you bend down to pick up a fallen fork – and can’t get up! Knees ache. Back muscles twinge. The whole body sighs. As the old saying goes, “I felt 21. Then I felt age.”
Regular stretching, or flexibility, exercises can help take the ‘age’ out of aging – the pain related to muscle tightness. Regular stretching can also improve your mobility and range of motion, enhancing life in all sorts of ways, from a better golf swing to just being able to turn your head better while driving. A more flexible body also greatly decreases your chance of injury from both daily and weekend activities.
The Pritikin Exercise Program recommends that you:
- Stretch at least two to three days per week, and
- Hold each stretch 15 to 60 seconds.
Coaching at the Pritikin Longevity Center
The exercise physiologists at Pritikin coach guests daily in all three facets of the Pritikin Exercise Program and focus on showing guests how to weave their new fitness routines into their busy lives at home.
A typical day at the Pritikin Longevity Center starts early morning with 45 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular conditioning in Pritikin’s new, state-of-the-art 7,500 square-foot exercise gym. Equipment includes treadmills, stationary bicycles (both recumbent and sit-up), rowing machines, cross-trainers, and elliptical walkers.
After cardiovascular conditioning, guests move to strength training classes with free weights, or, on alternating days, classes in abdominal crunches and stretching, called “Core and Stretch.” The “Core & Stretch” and “Yoga” classes are very popular, notes Exercise Director Scott Danberg, “because for the first time many guests experience how relaxing and rejuvenating stretching can be.”
Elective exercise classes, held daily at Pritikin in the late morning and afternoon, include aqua-aerobics in the pool, yoga/meditation, Pilates, Latin dancing, spinning, stretch and relax, physioball, shaping and toning the abs and buttocks, body sculpting, machine weights, resistabands, and cardio-boxing.