Get The Most From Your Exercise

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Whether you are a gym rat or a beginner, wouldn’t you like to know if you are over-training, under-training, or wasting your time with certain exercises? It’s time to get the most from your exercise routine! When it comes to fitness, like everything else in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. The following steps will get you moving and keep you healthy and active for years to come.

Step 1: Getting started. Do it slowly. One of the fastest ways to sabotage your fitness routine is to do too much, too quickly and hurt yourself, or drop the whole thing because it becomes too overwhelming. Choose something you’ll enjoy and your chances of staying with it are even better. Walking (on a treadmill, or around the neighborhood) is the easiest way to get started, but an exercise class or cycling are good choices for a beginner. Ten to fifteen minutes, 3 to 5 days a week is plenty to start. After a couple of weeks, increase the time and/or the number of days. Slowly work up to 30 minutes, 6 to 7 days a week.

Identify and Focus your Intention. Fitness, like many other things in your life, requires focus. Did you ever have a firm plan – going on a diet before summer, learning a new hobby/skill, exercising three times a week, or giving up a bad habit – but you couldn’t seem to get it done? To delve into what your intention is really about, make a list of reasons why you want to do a particular thing, or reach a certain goal. Chances are there will be one thing on the list that defines your ‘real’ reason, which should give you the motivation you need to get there. For instance, let’s say you want to quit smoking and you’re first reason is that it’s so expensive, or that it’s so difficult to find a place to smoke these days that it’s not worth the trouble. However, as you think it through, you list reasons that have to do with your health, and the health of your family. Maybe an aunt or uncle died of lung cancer last year. These reasons are stronger motivators and at the root of your real intention, and will help you stick with your decision. Post your list of reasons in a place where you’ll see it every day.

Break your plan/goal into small steps. The road to success with any undertaking is to break the task down into manageable chunks. Make a calendar page for the first month and put it on the refrigerator. Designate two days a week, fifteen minutes each that you will exercise. Check them off with a red marker each time you complete the task. The second month, increase your time to 30 minutes and/or add another day. Seeing your progress will make you feel good, in control, and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Including family is a win-win situation. If you feel guilty taking time away from your spouse and children to exercise, include them. Join a family-friendly health club like the YMCA that has exercise options that meet everyone’s needs. Can’t afford a health club? Designate family exercise time once or twice a week. Take a walk around the neighborhood a couple of times a week or go to a nearby park. If you have toddlers, one parent can jog while the other plays with the kids. Get a running stroller, and then both parents can exercise with the little ones along. When you exercise with a partner, friend, or group, your chances of sticking with it are greater and it feels more like fun than work.

To avoid stress fractures, muscle pulls, and back and neck pain, always warm up before and cool down after workouts with a series of stretches.

Step 2: Effective exercise goes hand in hand with a healthy diet, the proper amount of sleep, and vitamin supplementation (always consult with your doctor before starting a weight loss program and/or taking nutritional supplements).

Exercise combined with nutritional supplements is more effective than exercise alone in three important ways — reducing body fat, lowering elevated cholesterol levels, and preserving muscle tissue – says a new study. Undertaken at four universities, including UCLA, those in the study who only exercised lost 2.4 pounds of body fat, gained 1.6 pounds of lean muscle, lowered their LDL (bad) cholesterol by one percent, and had no loss in total cholesterol over a two-month period. The group that exercised and took supplements lost 5.9 pounds of body fat, gained 4.2 pounds of lean muscle, lowered their LDL cholesterol by 11 percent and their total cholesterol by 6.5 percent. Nutritional supplements that are beneficial are multivitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids among others.

You know you need plenty of calcium to give you strong bones, but don’t forget you need vitamin D to aid the absorption of calcium by your body. Studies at Massachusetts General Hospital and at Boston University Medical Center found that about 40 percent of adults are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is manufactured in your skin when it is exposed to sunlight. But, many people now avoid the sun or use sunscreen because of the risk of skin cancers. One source of vitamin D is fortified milk. It also occurs in oily fish like sardines and mackerel. Read labels to make sure your milk is vitamin D fortified. Since a lot of people are lactose intolerant, milk is not an option. Vitamin D3 supplements are also a good source.

Pre Workout Fiber for Energy. Adding fiber to your pre-workout meal or snack may be useful because it can slow down the absorption of high-glycemic carbs that lower insulin release, which encourages more rapid body fat loss. When athletes eat a high-soluble-fiber meal before training, they maintain a more stable blood glucose level throughout the workout. Adding some fiber to a protein drink slows gastric emptying, making you feel fuller and less hungry. A study of 50 men and 94 women, aged 30 to 80, compared the effects of eating low-fiber and high-fiber breakfasts. Subjects on the high-fiber breakfast reported less emotional distress, fewer cognitive problems and less fatigue. Although the authors didn’t explain those effects, the likely mechanism was better glycemic, or glucose, control. Conclusion: Add some fiber – like fruit – to your pre-workout protein drink, snack, or meal to keep your blood sugar stable and your energy high throughout your workout.

Low-Carb Diet Caution. Research suggests that attempting to lose body fat on a low-carb diet may lead to muscle loss. Most scientists feel that you need adequate carbs (complex carbohydrates) to power the intense training required for maintaining muscle under dieting conditions. On the other hand, you need increased protein because when you restrict calories, protein is diverted to energy pathways. What’s more, the thermic effect of protein helps foster body fat loss while you’re dieting. As you get lean, you need to make sure you don’t cut calories too much. That’s a mistake many body-building competitors make. In an effort to appear as defined as possible, they either do excessive aerobics or cut too many calories or both.

Step 3: Faster Fat Burning – Treadmill vs. Cycling. Twelve people engaged in exercise on either a treadmill or an exercise bike. According to the researchers, the treadmill produced a higher level of fat oxidation than cycling, but the intensity at which fat oxidation was maximized was the same for both forms of exercise. Treadmill exercise leads to a greater level of fat burning because while you’re doing it, the adrenal glands release stress hormones. These stress hormones mobilize fat from fat cells through at least two actions: 1) they suppress insulin release; and 2) they promote cyclic AMP, which then begins a cascade in fat cells that leads to the release of fat into the blood. The greater the amount of muscle mass trained, the greater the level of hormone release and consequent fat oxidation during aerobics. Standing on the treadmill uses more muscle mass than the seated cycling, so you burn more fat.

The Water/Fat Burn Connection. Researchers conducted a study to test the thermogenic effect of water; that is, the conversion of fat calories into heat. Seven men and seven women, all healthy, with an average age of 27, drank 500 milliliters, or about half a quart, of water. That caused a metabolic increase of 30 percent over resting levels. The increase occurred within 10 minutes, reaching a maximum 30 to 40 minutes after the subjects drank the water. It lasted for more than an hour, and it led the authors to suggest that drinking 1.5 liters of water daily (just over a quart) would augment daily energy expenditure by 200 kilojoules. That’s like taking a dose of 50 milligrams of ephedrine three times a day, which results in an increased energy expenditure of 320 kilojoules. Granted, that adds up to only about 100 extra calories burned daily, but it does add to weight loss when coupled with diet and exercise. (Suggestion: add a lemon, or lemon juice to water for flavor. This may help you drink more, plus lemon is good for the digestion.)

To lose weight, you need to do some calorie cutting along with your exercise routine. To lose a pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories. Since walking a mile burns about 80 calories, you’d have to cover 44 miles to lose a pound. To lose a pound a week (a safe, healthy recommendation), you need to cut 500 calories each day. When you exercise (30-60 minutes), you only have to cut around 250 calories each day. This is something positive you can do for better health, renewed energy and a healthy metabolism. Your best option for reducing your daily caloric intake naturally is to add more fiber to your diet. For every 14 grams of fiber you consume, you will reduce your overal caloric intake by 10%. Example: An average woman consumes 2000 calories per day, for every 14 grams of fiber she consumes it would reduce her caloric intake naturally by 200 calories. Simply add more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to your plate to lose excess pounds naturally and healthfully.

To lose fat in your belly, you need to do some type of aerobic exercise. Walking, jogging, cycling, or exercise classes are good examples. Sit-ups or crunches alone won’t do it. Abdominal exercises will strengthen the muscles underneath the fat, but won’t burn the fat. Watching what you eat helps here also. As always adding more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to your diet will improve your overall health and help reduce belly fat.

For best results, alternate cardio exercise and weight training. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get into shape, or just stay healthy, both types of exercise are important for different reasons. Cardio, or aerobic, exercise conditions your heart and lungs, helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improves your endurance. Weight, or strength, training helps prevent the loss of muscle that usually occurs as you get older. With strength training, you’ll stay strong, keep your metabolism revved up, and maintain good posture. Example: Walk 2 miles, three days a week for your cardio workout, and use an elastic band and a Swiss ball in a series of moves that target all the major muscle groups 3 days a week for strength training. The walking can be done outdoors, or indoors on a treadmill, or even to a ‘walking workout’ video. The strength training can be done outdoors, or indoors, as not much space is needed.

Step 4: Seriously consider your heart health. U.S. heart disease deaths tolls overall are down. From 1993 to 2003, cardiovascular disease death rates dropped 22.1 percent. But more than 910,000 Americans still die of heart disease annually, according to the American Heart Association. And more than 70 million Americans live every day with some form of heart disease, which can include high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, angina (chest pain), heart attack and congenital heart defects. To reduce your risk of heart disease, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, eat a high (complex) carbohydrate, and maintain your body-weight and blood pressure.

Avoid feeling guilty about missing the occasional workout. Everyone misses a workout now and then. Some days maybe you just don’t feel like it. And research has shown that the body needs rest periods between strenuous workouts so it can recover and/or heal. Some athletes even give themselves a week off from time to time, which helps to prevent over-training.