I recently listened to a lecture by a bariatric physician who began his talk with this phrase: “the key to weight loss is reducing calorie intake; the key to maintaining weight loss is exercise.” Very basic, but of course, for best results, you should start both healthy eating and exercising simultaneously in your weight loss program. What if you just dieted and refused to exercise? Some people do lose weight this way. But long-term studies have shown that more than 90% of people who have lost weight and maintained it over 5 years or more are regular exercisers. To put that another way, if you lose weight and don’t exercise, the chances you are going to stay thin are… well, slim. Very slim. (Only 10%.) No one really wants to lose weight temporarily, so if you’ve been a couch potato, it’s time for a change!
How do you start an exercise program if you’ve done very little exercising in years? There’s a phrase for that, too: “Start low, go slow.” If you try to overdo it, you’re going to hurt yourself or exhaust yourself, and then you’ll give up.
Walking is easy. Most people already have sneakers, and it doesn’t require a gym membership or a treadmill. Walk outside, or at the mall in bad weather. Start with 15 minutes a day and go up by 5 minutes a week. By the end of a month, you’ll be doing 30 minutes a day.
If you’re somewhat active and want more strenuous exercise, you can work up to running. This can be hard on bad joints (hips, knees, feet), and if you have these problems, you may do better with something that puts less stress on joints, like swimming or biking. Biking outside is great fun. A stationary bike is good if the weather is bad, or if you exercise at night, or if you want to watch TV while exercising. (I have a fantastic stationary bike that is silent: Tunturi E30R.) Try to find some form of exercise you enjoy. If it’s all work and no fun, it’s going to be hard to continue long-term. Vary your workouts. Try to do 2 or 3 different forms of exercise each week.
The main thing that you need to do is make exercise a priority. If it’s just one of the 10 things you’d like to do today, if you’re like most people, you’ll only get 3 or 4 of them done because our days rarely go as planned. So make exercise one of your top 2 or 3 things to do. Keep a record of your progress: put it down in a calendar or chart, and review it weekly. (If you have a smart phone, I strongly recommend the MyFitnessPal app. It not only stores your progress, it easily calculates your food calories and burned calories for you.) If you fail, that’s only temporary. Start over by trying to analyze what caused the failure, then resuming in a way that will circumvent that obstacle.
What is the eventual goal? For weight loss, most experts suggest 60 minutes of moderate exertion 5 times a week; to maintain weight loss, 30 minutes of moderate exertion 5 times a week. Moderate exercise is when you are sweating and breathing hard, but can still talk fairly easily. If you want to be more scientific about it, you will have to use some math. You should get your pulse to 70-85% of your maximum heart rate for most of your workout. Maximum heart rate is 220 – your age. Take that number and multiply by 0.70 or 0.85 to get the range. For example, I’m 52 years old. 220-52 = 168, my maximum heart rate. 168 x 0.70 = approximately 118. 168 x 0.85 = approximately 143. So I try to get my heart rate between about 120 to 140 beats per minute while exercising. Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6. After you’ve done this many times, you’ll get to where you’re able to tell by feel when you’re in that range.
But remember, these strenuous longer workouts are the eventual goal for couch potatoes. “Start low, go slow.” But start, and restart if necessary. Persistence will pay off in weight loss, looking better, and feeling better.