DAYTON, Ohio —
Are you feeling out of sorts and sluggishly out of shape? You just might be in need of a little nudge toward reality and self-respect.
You’re also not alone.
Join the feeling unpleasantly plump club.
Whether the lovely yet calorie-laden indulgences of the holidays or a lifetime of inactivity have escalated the battle of the bulge, don’t despair. Fitness professionals say it’s never too late to shape up and discover an improved — and wonderfully healthier — you.
Know the risks and the benefits
Although many of us would love to look like the preternaturally svelte Madonna, or, say, the boldly buff Mark Wahlberg, vanity alone should not be the prime motivator in dusting off the athletic shoes and heading to the gym. The health risks of being overweight and/or out of shape are breathtakingly scary.
According to Julia Valentour, program coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, there are many chronic diseases associated with obesity, including cardiovascular disease; several types of cancer, including colon, endometrial, breast and prostate; high blood pressure; muscular-skeletal problems; diabetes; stroke; and metabolic syndrome. Physical inactivity also can contribute to osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, liver and gall bladder diseases, sleep apnea, gynecological problems, as well as anxiety and depression.
Not a cheery forecast.
But on the flip side, exercise offers so many incredible benefits, according to Valentour, “including a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, better cholesterol profiles, decreased depression and anxiety, and overall wellness and better cognitive function.”
She added studies consistently have shown that people who work out live an average of two to four years longer than those who don’t.
Mitch Lyons, a partner in Centerville CrossFit and CrossFit Troy, can readily list the benefits of working out: “having a sense of self worth; feeling as if you accomplished something; minimizing stress; looking good; and performing well.”
Let’s get started
Verne Fortson, the activities director for LA Fitness clubs in Ohio, encourages people to start slowly and wisely on the path to wellness. “I suggest that they take the opportunity of a new year to start fresh,” she added, and set sensible and achievable goals, rather than make grandiose resolutions that lead to failure and disappointment. “Find a gym, but don’t overdo it,” she said.
Valentour added the first step is to make sure you’re healthy enough to exercise. “Check with your doctor first if you have cardiovascular, pulmonary or metabolic diseases or risk factors for these diseases,” she said. “You may need to be on a medically supervised exercise program.”
But if you’re an otherwise healthy adult, put a plan in action and do something to prevent those dreadful diseases linked to obesity.
“If you’re beginning an exercise regime for the first time, I recommend you get a certified personal trainer to help get you motivated,” said Valentour. “A personal trainer can definitely point you in the right direction.” A trainer can not only assess your fitness level at the start of your program, but he or she also provide a long-range plan and make sure you do exercises safely and use equipment correctly.
When most people first join a gym, they are overwhelmed by all the equipment, music and other people working out, said Dennis Ehntholt, the lead personal trainer at Urban Active at The Greene in Dayton, Ohio. “They generally have no idea of where to start and most often mimic the other people they see working out — without understanding their bodies and what they need to be working on to reach their goals. Working with a trainer is like working with a teacher and coach. Each training session is an opportunity for the client to learn from someone who wants them to be successful. Trainers push and encourage them to work harder and smarter.”
(Personal trainers apparently worked marvels for Wahlberg. The actor reportedly flew two trainers and equipment to the sets of other movies and rose at 4 each morning to train.)
If a dose of self-motivation is required to get back in shape, the American College of Sports Medicine offers a printable self-contract that you can fill out, listing your exercise goals and the changes you will commit to in order to realize the best possible you. Find the schedule at www.myexerciseplan.com/assessment/SelfAssessment.pdf.
Added Lyons: “People can motivate themselves by taking before and after pictures. Having an end goal is always great as you start an exercise program. When I say goal, I don’t mean losing 10 pounds.” He prefers people set specific fitness-related goals, such as running a 5K, a 10K or a marathon, and avoid obsessing over the numbers on the scale. “Exercise programs, in my opinion, should not be about losing weight. It should be about being fit. Looking good is a by-product.”
Pick your exercise
The ACSM guidelines recommend you do moderately intense cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week — or — vigorously intense cardio exercise 20 minutes a day, three days a week. In short, cardio exercise raises the heart rate and uses the big muscles in the body. Think brisk walking or light snow shoveling for moderate cardio, and running, cycling, skiing, swimming laps or jumping rope for intense cardio. The better your aerobic fitness, the more efficiently your heart, lungs and blood vessels transport oxygen throughout your body. In addition to the cardio program, ACSM also recommends eight to 10 strength-training exercises twice a week to improve muscular strength and endurance.
Find a sport or exercise you love, and you’ll be more likely to stick to your fitness program, according to Fortson. Regardless of your activity of choice, she urged beginning exercisers to start slowly and set realistic goals. Furthermore, know what your limitations are. If you have bad knees, then the cutting action of a sport like basketball or tennis might not be the best choice. If you’re tipping the scales at 300 pounds, then start with simple, nonimpact exercises such as walking and water aerobics, she added.
If the cardio segment sounds daunting, take a deep breath. Fortson said that moderate-intensity physical activity can be accumulated throughout the day in 10-minute bouts, which can be just as effective as exercising for 30 minutes straight. Start with 10-minute chunks of time a couple of days a week, suggests Fortson, and walk during a break, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or even sled with the kids. It all adds up.
A wise bite at a time
At the same time as you bravely enter a new world of gleaming free weights, Stairsteppers and dance-exercise classes that call for a snazzy cha-cha-cha, look at your eating habits and modify them accordingly. Fortson said she tells clients to be sensible and watch portion size, especially if they want to lose weight.
“The main thing is that you have to expend more calories than you take in,” said Valentour, “and that will create a negative caloric balance that will result in weight loss.” She recommended visiting mypyramid.gov to get the lowdown on what a healthy diet should include or work with a registered dietitian to overhaul your diet.
And make sure you don’t bite off more than you burn calorically. A slip of the lip does lead to a generously padded hip. Valentour recalls a former student who was perplexed by her inability to lose weight. Valentour asked her what her daily diet look liked, and the student said she started each day with a large vanilla latte. The student was blissfully unaware that daily latte cost her 300-plus calories. Morale to this story: Be conscious of not only what you eat, but also what you drink. Alcoholic beverages and sodas, too, can thwart you in your quest to create that negative caloric balance.
Although we inevitably want the pounds to melt off like a winter thaw, remember that slowly losing weight is the healthiest way. Patience is a virtue in this arena, and Valentour suggests losing no more than one to two pounds a week.
No more excuses
If Father Time has a treadmill, he is definitely not giving unlimited access to it.
“The No. 1 reason people give for not working out is time. I believe the No. 1 reason is a lack of commitment to change,” said Ehntholt. “That requires work. Most people know they need to exercise, but are not willing to make the time commitment. With an organized fitness program, people can reach their goals by maximizing the time they spend in the gym. The first commitment we get from our clients is (for them) to show up at the gym two to three times a week.”
Valentour is no-nonsense in her advice: “Don’t make excuses to skip exercise. It’s easier to prevent weight gain than to actually lose weight.”
If a gym membership is not an option, then Fortson suggests people take advantage of the vast outdoors and get fit by ice-skating, snowboarding, skiing or even shoveling.
“And if you’re feeling cooped up in the house this winter and pulling your hair out, use your stairs and go up and down them,” Fortson said, for aerobic exercise. And turn ordinary furniture into workout equipment. A chair, or even a coffee table, for instance, can be the apparatus on which to do triceps dips, she added.
The wonders of technology, too, have put a resounding kibosh on even the most cleverly concocted excuses to exercise. Instructional exercise DVDs run the gamut from yoga to kickboxing and weight lifting to Zumba, and they are easy to follow and inexpensive. Build a library of them. Snow Day? Turn it into a Downward Dog Day and do your body good. Fitness gurus such as Jillian Michaels (“America’s Biggest Loser”), Karen Voight, Denise Austin and Richard Simmons will put a personalized and energetic spin on your home workout program. Websites such as www.collagevideo.com make shopping effortless.
To keep you on track and make it easy to pencil in exercise time, ACSM offers a printable exercise planner at www.myexerciseplan.com/assessment/ExerciseTimeFinder.pdf.
Music is also an invigorating accompaniment to exercise and helps keep boredom as bay. “It is a proven fact that music can help people perform at higher levels in every part of their lives,” said Ehntholt. “All of us have different tastes in music, but upbeat, faster tempo music will help you perform at a higher level when exercising.”
With the right tools and attitude, the hard work of a fitness program will pay off. Not just for 2011, but for years to come.
“It is amazing to watch the metamorphosis of our clients as they make progress toward their fitness goals,” said Ehntholt. “The once quiet man or woman becomes outgoing and confident. They begin to wear more stylish clothes and change their hairstyles.”
By: Staff Writer, Robin McKracken, Dayton Daily News