Any exercise that gets your large muscle groups moving, like walking, running or biking, is excellent for managing your weight. These so-called aerobic exercises get your heart and lungs going, so they’re tops in burning calories and building your stamina.
We recommend walking as your main form of programmed exercise. Why? There’s no other exercise routine that’s quite as simple and accommodating to any lifestyle. In fact, it’s already part of your lifestyle. You already know how to do it, and you don’t have to buy any special equipment other than a pair of comfortable, supportive walking shoes. You can walk alone or with others, at any time of day, indoors or out. Mile for mile, it burns almost as many calories as running does, with less stress on your joints. How long you go is more important than how far you go.
Other good choices for aerobic exercise are jumping rope, cross-country skiing or using rowing machines or elliptical trainers. You might also choose organized activities, such as an aerobics or dance class. Just be sure you can attend them regularly, and that you’re moving continuously throughout your session.
Join the Team. (Again.)
Team sports like soccer, baseball and tennis are a terrific way to make a regular commitment to being active. Moreover, they make fitness fun and social, which just might be the incentive you need to get started. You’re also more motivated to show up when you know a team, or a partner, is waiting for you.
Don’t worry if you haven’t been on a team since high school; chances are, there’s a recreational league that welcomes participants at all levels. For information, check out your neighborhood recreation center or continuing education program, or the YMCA. Have fun!
Tick, Tick, Tick: The Power of the Pedometer
Need a little push to get you started moving regularly? Consider investing in a pedometer or step counter. This little wearable device tracks the number of steps you take daily—every single step, including walking down the hall to the bathroom and going to the mailbox. It can be powerfully motivating to see how many steps you’ve taken by the end of the day, and how easy it is to add a few more.
While most of us can easily fit in an additional thousand daily steps without having to become serious walkers, most step-counting advocates suggest aiming much higher. A good starting goal is about 2,000 daily steps—that adds up to about one mile. Work up gradually, increasing your steps by about 500 per week, until you’ve reached what many consider the ideal goal of 10,000 steps daily, the equivalent of five miles.
A good pedometer doesn’t have to be expensive; a reliable model will cost about $20 to $30. (Not long ago, a major fast-food chain was even giving them out for free with a “healthy” meal combo!) For the motivation it delivers, it’s well worth the investment.
While aerobic activities are most effective for calorie burning, another kind is also important for building fitness: strength training, or resistance training. This type of exercise involves using your muscles to push or pull weight by lifting weights, working out on weight machines or using resistance bands or stability balls. Resistance exercises like pushups and abdominal crunches also qualify, because the weight you’re pushing and pulling against is your own.
Strength training helps strengthen bones and muscles and improves your body’s sense of balance. It also revs up your metabolism; muscle tissue burns calories, so the more you have, the more calories you’ll burn. And, as you’re losing weight, strength training helps preserve some muscle tissue that might otherwise be lost along with the fat.
One of the best reasons to add strength training to your exercise routine, though, is that it produces satisfying results fairly quickly. No matter how old or sedentary you are, you’ll soon notice that everyday tasks, like lifting groceries, are easier to do. This can give your weight-loss plan a motivating kick start.
You don’t have to be a pumped-up bodybuilder or gym rat to benefit from strength training: as little as 15 minutes a day, two or three days a week, is usually enough to produce noticeable fitness gains. It doesn’t take a large investment in equipment—just a pair of inexpensive hand weights can be used for a wide range of strength-building exercises. (Instructional guides are available at bookstores and online.) To get started on a strength-training program, you may want to ask your doctor for a recommendation or check your local YMCA, neighborhood recreation center or health club. If you’re trying it for the first time, it’s worth investing in a few sessions with an exercise trainer; those that are certified as athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches or personal trainers are your best bet.
In case you need more convincing…
If losing weight, having more energy and looking and feeling great aren’t incentive enough to get you moving more, just think about how happy it will make your doctor. There are literally dozens of medical reasons why exercise is probably one of the most important things you can do for your health. Studies show that regular physical activity can:
•Keep your heart healthy by strengthening your heart muscle and making it more efficient, lowering blood pressure and boosting your levels of heart-friendly HDLs (high-density lipoproteins).
•Help reduce risks of some types of chronic diseases, including breast cancer and some aggressive forms of prostate cancer. If you have diabetes or are “borderline,” regular exercise can improve your blood-sugar control. Got arthritis? Strength training and aerobic exercise might help boost flexibility and strength.
•Keep your brain sharp. Regular exercise helps improve blood flow to the brain, and regular exercisers tend to do better in maintaining cognitive ability as they age.
•Help you live longer. A recent report from the long-term Framingham Heart Study—which has been gathering health data from more than 5,000 people for almost six decades—found that those participants who had moderate or high levels of activity lived 1.3 or 3.7 years longer, respectively, than those who were mostly sedentary.
By Dr. Jean Harvey-Berino, Ph.D., R.D., The EatingWell Diet (2007)