I’m training for a half-marathon, which I will run in 2 weeks. I’m not “a runner.” I have the natural speed of a sloth. To illustrate, I had a brief stint in high school with running which failed miserably. I was on the track team and came in dead last EVERY time (I think maybe there was ONE time when I came in next to last). I don’t know why it is, but perhaps the speed gene failed to grace my DNA.
All this aside, I’m running. I ran a mile yesterday, as part of my speed work training. I felt like I was running as fast as humanly possibly. And guess my time? 8 minutes, flat (this is after training for months!). Oh well. I still run because running makes me feel good, that, and I have run a race in a few weeks. Once the race is done, I’ll go back to teaching my aerobics classes in the fall and perhaps I’ll take up running again in next spring.
I share this all with you because I want to illustrate that it doesn’t matter if you are “good” or not at exercise. Just do it. I hate to sound like your mother here, but do it because it’s good for you. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll like it.
I’ve been teaching group fitness classes for several years now (aerobics, water aerobics, pilates, yoga) and have noticed some reoccuring asked questions. For your reading pleasure (I’m sure you’re dying to know!) here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about exercise.
Why is exercise important?
What you eat is crucial to your well-being, but overall health cannot be achieved without moving your body (exercising). The benefits of exercise are many and cannot be ignored. Hour for hour, this activity provides more benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health than literally any other activity.
How often should I exercise?
EVERYONE should get physical activity (movement!) every day. Our bodies were meant and made to move and actually thrive under physical conditions much more rigorous than most of us are accustomed in our modern world.
A structured exercise program should be a part of everyones lifestyle, no matter your age, weight, health, etc. An exercise program can be tailored to fit your needs. For example, if you are recovering from a knee injury, your cardio program would involve very low impact exercise such as biking and swimming until you’re fully recovered at which point you can add higher impact exercises such as step aerobics or running. If you’re new to exercise, you’ll start out with 20 minutes of cardio and gradually work yourself up to 1 hour.
Keep in mind the FIT principle: Frequency, Intensity, and Time. You want to have frequent workouts (several times a week), at a moderate/hard intensity, for 20-60 minutes depending on your needs.
Cardio workouts include running, jogging, walking, aerobics, swimming, biking.
Strength training involves weight bearing exercise using free weights, machine weights, resistance bands/exertube or other forms of equipment. Emphasis is on toning, sculpting, and increasing/maintaining muscle mass.
Mind/Body workouts include things such as yoga and Pilates.
Will exercise help me lose weight?
Yes! If you want to lose weight and keep it off, YOU must exercise! Most people can expect to burn 300-600 calories in a one hour exercise session (depending on the intensity).
You’re just thin because you exercise so much!
Actually, I could make the argument that I would currently be thinner and weigh less if I did not exercise because I have more muscle mass (which weighs more than fat) because I exercise. I have always exercised. Daily. Since high school, I have participated in some sort of regimented physical activity (sports, group fitness classes, running, etc.).
I only lost weight once I changed how I ate. I’m sure you know of people who are overweight who exercise frequently as well as people who are very thin who do not exercise at all. It’s not just due to a “high” or “slow” metabolism, in fact most people who exercise have a faster metabolism (burn calories at a higher rate), but rather it is most likely due to a excess calorie consumption.
If you want to lose weight:
- Cardio, 60 minutes, 4-6 days a week
- Strength training, for 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week
- Mind/Body, 30-60 minutes (such as yoga/Pilates), 2 times a week
Weight maintenance (this of course is bare minimum):
- Cardio 3 days a week, 30-60 minutes
- Strength training 2 times a week, 10-15 minutes
- Mind/Body 2 times a week
What are some of the misconceptions about exercise?
1. While exercise does have many benefits, including keeping your heart healthy and strong, it is not powerful enough to completely counteract the negative consequences of a high-fat, high-animal foods diet.
Exercising intensely, 5-6 days a week, for 45-60 minutes while still consuming the SAD (standard American diet) and expecting to be protected from heart disease and other chronic conditions is like pouring gasoline on fire while simultaneously throwing a cup or two of water on it to try to put it out.
Your body cannot undo the damage caused by daily consumption of artery-damaging/clogging saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, high levels of animals protein by simply running a few (or even a lot) miles or swimming laps.
2. Another misconception is that all you need to do to lose weight is to exercise.
Many people actually GAIN weight once they start an exercise program. This is not only because they are gaining more muscle mass (muscle weighs more than fat), but also because many people are under the impression that they have free reign to eat more, in many cases they eat MUCH more than they used to.
Remember, you must burn 3500 calories to lose 1 pound of body fat. You will gain 1 pound of fat by consuming in excess (unused calories) of 3500 calories. Say you exercise for one hour and burn 400 calories. Afterwards, you think to yourself, I’m hungry! So you eat dinner and help yourself to seconds, which can easily be an extra 400 calories.
Then you say, I worked out today, I deserve dessert. So then you help yourself to a bowl of ice cream (which usually is 2-3 servings of ice cream, who really only eats 1/2 c.??) which is 300-400 calories.
You keep this up for a few weeks, and after a while, you say to yourself, “Sheesh, this exercise thing is NOT working!” What’s not working, actually, is the faulty thinking that you can eat more or whatever you want.
Weight loss/maintenance is 80% diet, 20% exercise. Most people think it’s the other way around, and for this reason, struggle all their lives achieving their ideal weight. It’s best to eat an ideal diet and don’t worry about making sure you’re eating enough.
If you’re eating to satisfy your hunger, you’re fine (because, after all, you have excess fat that you want to burn, and you won’t burn it if you’re eating the same amount of calories as you were or more!).
3. This is probably the most common one: I don’t have time! I don’t have money!
First, everyone has time to go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, take a shower, eat, and other hygiene. Consider exercise part of your hygiene regimen. It’s not optional. In the long run, you will most likely have fewer doctor visits, enjoy a longer, more energetic life, and experience fewer sicknesses.
In regards to money, it doesn’t cost a cent to take a walk or go running, and other work out options can be made very affordable.
What exercise equipment to recommend?
Everyone should have a good pair of running shoes (for running/walking), a good pair of cross-trainers (for all other cardio workouts), a set of hand weights, and a yoga mat.
Other equipment that I like: medicine balls (especially for “bootcamp” style workouts), exertubes/resistance bands, aerobic steps and BOSU’s (for aerobics), a large exercise ball, a mini-trampoline/rebounder, and a fitness circle (often used in Pilates).
While equipment can be fun, sometimes it can become distracting, and even misleading. For example you can get a better core workout by doing a set of push ups than using a fancy (and expensive ab roller), but the advertising would lead you to believe that an ab roller will give you a “six pack” without all the work.
A lot of fancy and technical exercise machines are a little bit of a hoax as well as a rip-off, and you’re better off sticking with the classics: a treadmill (or just go for an actual walk outside), free weights, ect.
I can’t afford a personal trainer or gym membership!
Working with a personal trainer is ideal because they are able to tailor your exercise program to fit your specific needs, help you reach your fitness/weight loss goals, and keep your workouts safe, thus more effective.
Further, a trainer will push and challenge you. For example, you’re much more likely to do that extra set of push ups or more reps with your trainer there than you would do on your own. If you can afford a trainer, I HIGHLY recommend it. That said, you can still be very fit without one, it just requires more effort and commitment on your part to make sure you’re working out properly.
You don’t have to belong to a gym in order to be fit. In fact, a gym membership is only valuable if you use it! YMCA’s and community centers are also great places. And if you like to workout at home (a great time/money saver), there are many good DVD’s to choose from. I like Jillian Micheals, Cathe Frederich, and P90X. Beach Body has some good formats like TurboJam that can be fun. CIA videos are also good (but can be very advanced).
I’m so out of shape it’s not even funny.
Start wherever you are. Walking is one of the best places to start. Start with 15 minutes a day, then 20, 30, 60 minutes.
For more information and answers to your questions about exercise, vist the American Council on Exercise.