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Focus on Fitness: Making - and keeping - New Year's resolutions

Posted: January 18, 2014 - 5:06pm

Editor’s note: “Focus on Fitness” is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Three of the most common New Year’s resolutions are losing weight, getting fit, and managing stress. These are great resolutions and exercise can help you accomplish all three of them.

Most importantly, choose an exercise regime that is appropriate for your fitness level and takes into account any health issues you may have. Talk to your doctor if it has been a long time since you participated in an exercise program. Choosing a program that is too advanced reduces the likelihood of sticking with it and increases the risk of injury. Going from couch potato to cross fit is often a recipe for disaster.

Eating more raw unprocessed foods is extremely important in losing and maintaining weight but without exercise a person’s chances for success are greatly reduced. A program of diet modification alone will result in a plateau in which a person can no longer lose weight. Exercise not only burns calories it increases ones basal metabolism so you burn more calories all day long. Also, as we age our muscle mass naturally diminishes which is one of the reasons losing weight becomes more difficult as you get older. Exercise can reduce this muscle mass loss by 50 percent.

People of any age who take weight off and keep it off exercise at least 45 minutes a day. This may sound daunting but remember that parking farther from the store, taking the stairs, walking around the house while you are on the phone, etc. can count toward the 45 minutes. That being said, you do need to engage the aerobic energy system on a regular basis for the best results. An old adage in exercise physiology says: “fat burns in a carbohydrate flame.” Exercising aerobically beyond 15 minutes in a session really kicks your body into fat burning mode.

The hormones that are dumped into the blood stream during exercise are similar to the ones you experience when under stress. Once your body becomes accustomed to an exercise routine it will be better equipped to handle stressful situations. Exercise also improves confidence/mood, reduces blood pressure and improves brain function all of which can make dealing with stress easier.

It is obvious that exercise improves fitness. However, it is important to remember to work to improve a variety of areas of fitness. Strength, aerobic and flexibility exercises all have their own special benefits so working all three into your weekly routine is important for best results.

Try to fit in three strength workouts a week. If you have a gym membership you will have access to a variety of strength training equipment to get a full body workout. If not you will need to invest in a set of weights, resistance bands or some other equipment that will enable you to do strength training at home. Use enough resistance to reach overload after 12 to 15 repetitions for upper body exercises and 15 or 20 repetitions for lower body exercises. This will tone and strengthen the muscles rather than add bulk/power and greatly reduce your risk of injury. Be sure to do core exercises that work the upper/lower abs and the lower back, in fact it is a good idea to do these 6-7 times a week.

For aerobic exercise try to fit in five or more workouts per week. Be sure to exercise at least twenty to twenty-five minutes. Get outside and exercise when you can, doing so has its own special benefits. Be sure to choose an activity or exercise machine that is appropriate for your level of fitness and the health of your joints.

It is a good idea to do some stretching everyday but you should go through a series of stretches for most muscle groups at least twice a week. Stretching your hamstrings and calf muscles several times a week can help prevent lower back and foot problems. Hold stretches for at least 20 seconds. Some activities such as swimming and yoga can improve muscle tone and flexibility at the same time.

Fitting exercise into your schedule can be challenging, finding the best option for you can make it easier. Purchasing a gym membership is an excellent choice. The equipment should be of good quality and paying a fee may make you more likely to exercise so you get your money’s worth. Also, you will have the opportunity to consult with exercise experts who can help you shape your program to fit your needs and reach your goals.

Purchasing home equipment is an excellent option also. Being able to exercise at home can greatly increase the number of workouts you do because it is convenient and is more efficient time wise. Even if you have a gym membership and workout there three times a week having equipment at home will make it easier to get in six or seven workouts a week.

Making a New Year’s resolution is easy, but sticking with it is more difficult. Several years ago a friend of mine read in a runner’s magazine that if you exercise everyday for two weeks you establish a routine you are more likely to stick with. Force yourself to make it two weeks and you will be on your way to incorporating exercise into your lifestyle. Writing down what you plan to do each day of the week for your workouts and checking those items off as you do them is also a great strategy for success. Finally, remember that it takes six to eight weeks to make significant gains in fitness so be patient. Your efforts will not only get you in shape they will reduce your stress levels and help you lose weight.

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. Teacher and owns/operates Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. which specializes in P.E. consulting. He can be reached at ccstephens@gci.net.

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