Exercise gear worth buying

The beauty of exercise is that you need only good shoes and socks to do it. But if you want to go a step further, consider investing in one or more of the following.

Exercise gear worth buying

1. A high-quality pedometer

This little gizmo tracks the steps and miles you walk throughout the day (10,000 steps equals five miles). Numerous studies find that wearing one is a great motivation to increase your steps. It becomes almost like a game: "Can I get more steps today than I got yesterday?"

  • Take it to the next level by forming a pedometer club (a fitness-oriented version of a book club) in which all members compete to see who can rack up the most steps on a monthly basis.
  • Once a month, meet for a group walk and a healthy lunch to compare notes.
  • Don't buy the cheapest pedometer, however; research shows they're not very accurate. You should be able to find a good one for about $20.

2. A heart rate monitor

The key to aerobic or endurance activities is to get your heart rate up to a certain level and keep it there for 10 minutes or more. Using the breathing-heavy-but-can-still-talk approach generally gets you to the right pace. But if you want a more precise measurement, first determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Your target heart rate is between 50 and 75 percent of that. So if you're 50, your target heart rate is between 85 and 130 beats per minute. To monitor their heart rates continuously, athletes and serious exercisers use a heart rate monitor. The typical unit includes a band you wrap around your chest and a wristband or armband that picks up the signals from the chest monitor. It's an easy way to see if you need to pick up the intensity — something that will become more important as you get fitter.

3. Dumbbells

Exercise experts have a saying: "Dumbbells are smart." That's because they make it difficult to push yourself too hard, thus avoiding injury. They're also flexible. You can use them anytime, nearly anywhere. Increasing the weight as you get stronger is as simple as picking up another set of dumbbells. You can even buy some that allow you to change the weight by turning a knob, but for durability, choose fixed-weight dumbbells. A popular type is hex dumbbells. The ends resemble hexagons so they don't roll when you set them down. If you want to take your weights with you when traveling, look for hollow weights that you fill with water when you're ready to work out.

4. An inflatable exercise ball

Exercise balls are terrific when it comes to strengthening core muscles and improving balance. Even just sitting on one when you're at the computer can provide some benefits. Size is important when it comes to balls.

  • Buy one large enough so your feet are flat on the floor when you sit on it.
  • If you're under 165 centimetres (5 feet 5 inches), try a 55-centimetre ball.
  • If you're over 180 centimetres (5 feet 11 inches), aim for a 75-centimetre ball.
  • Everyone else should do fine with a 65-centimetre ball.
  • And don't inflate it completely; a little give in the ball helps with stability.
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