In our last article, we talked about the importance of exercise. Don’t even consider embarking on a weight-loss program without it! But HOW should you exercise? Below we’ve got some great tips to maximize your exercise (and weight-loss) success. Let’s get started.

1 Get some sleep.

It may sound crazy to start here, but if you don’t get good sleep you are typically too tired to exercise. Conversely exercising helps you sleep. It’s like the old adage ‘let the kids wear themselves out so that they can sleep tonight’. It’s true for adults as well. In a way, today starts yesterday. What I mean by that is if you want to get up early to exercise you have to go to sleep earlier the night before. This may mean skipping the late night TV reruns, but it’s a small price to pay for your health.

People often say ‘less sleep means more calories burned so more weight loss, right’. Wrong. There was a very interesting study done by the Harvard School of Public Health[1] found that people who sleep less than 5 hours a day (compared to 7 hours) have a 30% greater risk of gaining ‘significant weight’, which was defined as more than 30 pounds! Overall, poor sleepers gained an average of 2 pounds per year. That doesn’t sound like much, but over time it really adds up. Poor sleep could make you ‘too tired to exercise’ or eating more because you ‘need energy’.[2]

2 Avoid these weight-loss MYTHS:

Cardio is the best way to lose weight. What do you call doing cardio 5 days a week? The road to nowhere! Cardio is important and I love it, but what is much more effective for weight loss and fat loss is resistance training (weights, machines, or elastic bands). While you’ll burn more calories per time spent doing cardio than weights, almost as soon as you step off the treadmill your metabolism starts to go down. However, after doing resistance training, your metabolism stays up for hours longer. Where do your muscles get the energy they need post work out? Your fat stores. Also, as you build muscle your percent body fat will go down and you’ll look and feel better. If you love cardio you don’t have to give it up (nor should you), but doing resistance training just twice a week (8 sets only) makes a big difference.

You can target weight loss to one part of your body. No matter how many crunches and sit ups you do you’ll never get a six pack. To get a six pack you need to drop you percent body fat to around 10%. The best way to do this? Resistance training. Just be sure to train many different areas of your body for the best effect.

The fat burning zone. This myth is one of the major reasons why people don’t get the results they want. Lots of patients tell me that they do Zumba 5 days a week or go to Curves all the time, but haven’t lost any weight. I always ask them 2 questions. First, “Are you sweating during your work out?” and second, “Are you winded/short of breath during your work out?” Invariably, the answer to both questions is “no”. If you are not winded or sweating then it’s too easy and you’re not going to get the results you want. The fat burning zone (like the one you typically see on cardio equipment) is typically too easy. Make the most of your exercise time. Intensity matters!

Weights will make me look big! Just because a person lifts weights doesn’t mean they’ll turn into the Hulk. Resistance training will probably make you smaller because you’ll lose fat. You can lift in a way to increase your muscle mass, but most people lose fat, lower their percent body fat, and get more definition rather than increase in size. Just think about your arms. Some of us (myself included) have smooth arms that we think look ‘big’ in pictures. After losing some fat and lifting you’ll get some definition and your arms will actually look smaller, but more toned, which is what most people want.

Using too little weight. You should struggle with resistance training/weights. It may sound counterintuitive, but success in weight lifting comes through failure. Your last rep should come at the point of failure (can barely do it with good form). If you can finish your set of 12 reps with no problem you need to increase the weight. Make the time you’re putting into your program worth it.

3. Plateauing.

The human body is an awesome creation. It is highly adaptable. Just as we can develop tolerance to drugs and alcohol your body can build up tolerance to your ‘old’ work out program. Think what would happen if you started off lifting a 5-pound dumbbell, but after 1 year you were still just using that same dumb bell? Do you think you would be any stronger? What if you kept running the same 2 miles at a 10 minute/mile pace for a whole year, would you really be in any better cardiovascular shape or be able to run faster? Of course not. Ideas like cross training and muscle confusion are based on this concept. If your work out is getting easy you need to increase the amount you lift, run longer, or run at a faster pace, or just mix up your routine otherwise you’ll get stuck on a plateau.

4. HIIT me.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is great. HIIT means mixing up short periods of maximum effort with longer periods of lighter effort. Typically, 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 90 seconds of jogging or even walking. Amazingly, 20 min of HIIT is equal to about 40 min straight jogging. Also, the metabolic effects are more like resistance training than pure cardio. I try and do one session of HIIT each week. Another benefit is the reduced workout time—this is great for those that are really time strapped (not the ones that are just saying they are).

5. Start low, go slow.

The only thing worse than not exercising is getting injured. If you get hurt, you’ve likely put yourself back a few weeks or months. Use good form (in running and lifting), start with short distances, low intensity, and light weights. Increase as you can. Remember you are trying to improve upon yourself (think personal best (PB) or personal record (PR)) rather than competing with someone else. It doesn’t matter where you are not, but where you want to wind up.

The big picture.

At this point there are many that are saying, “There’s too much stuff to remember”, “Too many rules”, etc. Well everything we do has consequences—some good, some bad. While we often have to do things that we don’t like, there is a reason for it. Maybe you don’t like to wear seat belts, but they help in the advent of an accident. Maybe you don’t like to put money in your retirement account, but you’ll eventually need it. Maybe you like to eat sweets all the time, but will you be happy when you have a heart attack due to diabetes and high cholesterol?

Although you may not want to put aside 30 minutes of your day (3% of your waking time) to exercise, will you really be happy watching the rest of your family and friends run around and have fun while you sit on the porch in a rocking chair? Doesn’t it make sense to exercise? One of the great things God has given us is choice. What will your choice be?

 

[1] http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sleep/

[2] PatelSR, Malhotra A, White DP, Gottlieb DJ, Hu FB. Association between reduced sleepand weight gain in women. Am J Epidemiol.2006; 164:947-54


About the Author

Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

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