How to Lose Weight – Part 4

Welcome back to our series on how to lose weight. In previous articles we talked about how you need to get properly motivated to experience successful weight loss. If you have a solid ‘why’ and ‘what,’ you will be much more likely to reach your goals. Afterwards we talked about talked about the ‘how’. First, we talked about taking the DIE out of dieting and gave some great diet strategies to pursue. Today, we’ll be talking about another critical component: exercise.

Exercise has many benefits, studies have shown that it improves mood, increases energy, decreases pain, and reduces depression. In fact, one small study showed that exercise was as effective as SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—a common compound in antidepressants) in the treatment of clinical depression.1

Although exercise is a powerful weigh-loss tool, many find it much harder than changing their diet. Perhaps this is because it is just physically harder to do, takes more effort (willpower), and requires a change in your schedule.

One major reason people don’t exercise is that they don’t ‘have time’. But the truth is, you have to make time for your priorities. Do you want to start exercising? Schedule it into your day and it will quickly become habit.

I’m a cardiologist and have a very hectic schedule. I’ve found it works best when I get up at 5am to do my devotional and exercise. If I neglect this time, that urgent ‘life happens’ will come steal away the time. Don’t let low priority, but urgent things usurp high priority, but non-urgent goals i.e. “I have to run to the store because of lack of planning so I’m going to have to skip exercise-again”. Set an exercise time and keep it. Do devotional and/or your exercise program first thing in the A.M. so that you never miss it.

I know many of you are thinking, “How much do I need to exercise?” The truth is, there is no clear cut answer. But did you know the minimum amount of exercise needed to make a difference in your cardiovascular health is only 15 minutes a day?2 In fact, just getting active at all compared to sitting improves your health.

A large Australian study showed that the more you sit all day the more likely you are to die.3 Currently, most doctors recommend that everyone get 30 minutes of exercise a day. That sounds like a lot, but it isn’t. If you sleep for 8 hours a night (which almost none of us do-more on that later) 30 minutes of exercise is just 3% of your waking hours. Isn’t your health worth 3% effort? I hope so.

So how often should someone exercise? The current recommendation is 6 times a week. (Part of that is so that if you miss a session or two you are still exercising 4-5 times a week.) What about exercising 7 days a week? Wouldn’t that be better? Actually it’s not, almost every exercise program out there recommends at least one day off. Even long distance running programs all say take a day off to rest. It gives your body time to rest and repair. My personal day of rest is the Sabbath.

When talking about exercising, many people jump to the excuse, “it’s just too hard,” or “I can’t do anything”. The truth is everyone has to start somewhere. The more weight you want to lose the more deconditioned you usually are. While it typically takes a long time to add on weight, it only takes weeks to get out of shape (or deconditioned). Look at highly trained professional athletes. When they get a minor injury and are out for a few weeks, they tend to be out of ‘game shape’ when they come back. Although, they probably look the same, their level of conditioning has dropped. This means even ‘fit’ people will find it difficult to start exercising after a break.

If you really think you can’t do it watch ‘Marathon Challenge’ on PBS (you can stream it for free at They take a group of average people and, through an exemption, train them to run the Boston Marathon. It’s a really inspiring story and shows that even people who don’t even walk for exercise can complete 26.2 miles.

Although we tend to correlate being ‘healthy’ with good looks, it is not always the case. There is interesting data from the Mayo Clinic about TOFI. Not tofu, T.O.F.I.—this stands for Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside.4 The idea came from looking at super models who were really thin, but not healthy. Their percent body fat was much higher than expected. Just because you look lean doesn’t’ mean you are. You could be mostly fat. The fastest way to lower your percent body fat is to not only lose fat, but to build muscle at the same time. The best way to do that is by exercise.

Now that we’ve covered the groundwork (phew!), we are ready to talk about HOW we should exercise. This will be the subject of our next article. Get your athletic shoes ready!

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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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