Question of the Week

January 19, 2009


As the middle of January has come and gone, many have already given up on their New Year's resolutions. The guidelines to eat right and exercise more can seem overwhelming, and it can seem there are not enough hours in the day to fit it all in. Most people understand that physical activity is important, but even those who understand that it is important -- and why -- often have trouble making time to exercise as much as they know they should.

"Poor diet and physical inactivity, resulting in an energy imbalance (more calories consumed than expended), are the most important factors contributing to the increase in overweight and obesity in this country,' according to the guidelines. ... 'Thirty minutes of physical activity is across the board to all adults, every day of the week,' ... Meeting the 30-minute threshold will help a person maintain a healthy weight and reap health benefits like lowering the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and hypertension, according to the guidelines. From there, the amount of physical activity a person needs climbs, depending on his weight status. 'For those who are following the 30-minute guideline and gaining weight anyway, they may need as much as 60 minutes a day to prevent weight gain,' says Pate. And at the high end of the spectrum is 90 minutes of exercise every day."

The guideline of 30 minutes a day of activity is for everyone. Some people need more, but everyone needs exercise.

"[P]eople who maintain their weight through diet rather than exercise are likely to have major deposits of internal fat, even if they are otherwise slim. 'The whole concept of being fat needs to be redefined,' said Bell, whose research is funded by Britain's Medical Research Council. Without a clear warning signal — like a rounder middle — doctors worry that thin people may be lulled into falsely assuming that because they're not overweight, they're healthy."

Everyone needs exercise, but not everyone has an established exercise routine. For some, it is difficult to stick with a routine. For others, it is difficult to know where to start.

One place to start is with a fitness assessment. "Determine your fitness level with this four-part assessment. Use the results to set fitness goals and track your progress. You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But knowing the specifics can help you set fitness goals, monitor your progress and maintain your motivation. Once you know where you're starting from, you can plan where you want to go."
(Visit the above link to access a general online fitness assessment that is available free to the public.)

Getting an idea of where one's fitness level is makes a good starting point. From there, setting goals and developing a unique program to reach those goals is the next step.

"When you start a new exercise program, make sure you're choosing your activities wisely and setting reasonable goals for yourself.

  • Find physical activities that you enjoy and feel safe doing. ...
  • Consider joining a gym or employing a personal trainer to set up your program, plan your progression, and monitor your goal accomplishment.
  • At the beginning of the week, plan your exercise sessions. Write them in your day planner or PDA and treat them like you would any appointment. Don't let other priorities crowd out this important part of your schedule.
  • Be sure you are wearing appropriate footwear for exercise. Running shoes are best for both walking and running. ...
  • During exercise, focus on the way you feel. Strive to be doing activities that you enjoy at an intensity that you feel good doing. ...
  • Adding resistance training two to three times per week will increase your metabolism and help your body burn more calories. ...
  • Spend five to 10 minutes at the end of your workout to stretch the major muscles you have used. ...
  • Set realistic short-term action goals and reward yourself when you achieve them. ..."
    Duke University Health System Library

When people gradually increase activity levels, goals can seem more realistic. While people are more likely to stick with a routine that seems manageable, there is an added benefit that gradual progress to realistic goals can also help reduce the likelihood of injury.

  • "Listen to your body. If you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break. You may be pushing yourself too hard.
  • Be flexible. If you're not feeling good, give yourself permission to take a day or two off."

While establishing a routine, and sticking with it, are both important, doing too much too soon and causing an injury can make sticking to one's exercise routine even more challenging (if not impossible) during recovery.

"The safest way to keep from injuring yourself during exercise is to avoid trying to do too much too soon. Start with an activity that is fairly easy for you, such as walking. Do it for a few minutes a day or several times a day. Then slowly increase the time and level of activity. For example, increase how fast you walk over several weeks. If you feel tired or sore, ease up somewhat on the level of exercise, or take a day off to rest. Try not to give up entirely even if you don't feel great right away! Talk with your doctor if you have questions or think you have injured yourself seriously."

Set realistic goals; gradually work to meet them; periodically reassess the progress made.

"Retake your personal fitness assessment six weeks after you start your program and then again every three to six months. You may notice that you need to increase the amount of time you exercise in order to continue improving. Or you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you're exercising just the right amount to meet your fitness goals. If you lose motivation, set new goals or try a new activity. Exercising with a friend or taking a class at a fitness center may help, too. Starting an exercise program is an important decision. But it doesn't have to be an overwhelming one. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you can establish a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime."

In building exercise into a healthy daily habit, it is important to remember that physical activity is not just limited to specific time set aside to be working out at home or at the gym.

"Remember that movement is a choice. What you do with your body during the 16 hours of the day that you are not sleeping or intentionally exercising is important.

  • Consider monitoring your steps with a pedometer. Try to accumulate 10,000 steps every day.
  • Look for opportunities to fit in short bouts of exercise. Walk around the field during your daughter's soccer games and practices, park your car farther away, use the restroom on the floor above you, walk to your mailbox, walk the dog, etc.
  • Redesign your sedentary environment -- move your trash can to the other side of your office, lose the remote control, put your recycling bin as far away from your kitchen as possible, avoid buying appliances and outdoor yard equipment that use electricity or gas when a manual option is reasonable. The calories you burn could make the difference of six to 10 pounds per year.
  • Watch TV each day? Get up and move during each commercial during three hours of TV watching and you will have exercised for 50 minutes.
  • Short on time, but still want results? A single set of eight to 12 repetitions to fatigue of your major muscle groups will provide significant strength gains. You will be stronger, have more energy, and feel like being more active. ..."
    Duke University Health System Library

Questions of the Week:
What should you discuss with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine? What tools can you use to help determine how much exercise is right for you? How can you keep track of your goals (and your progress as you work to reach them) in a way that will keep you accountable and help you avoid becoming overwhelmed? What else can you do to help yourself stick to your routine and stay motivated? What can you do to reduce your risk of injury? Beyond a set exercise schedule, in what ways can you work physical activity into your daily routine?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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