As a dietitian, I have spent my entire adult life helping people to eat better. But when asked about the single greatest thing I do to keep myself in shape, my answer has always been regular exercise. I can say with 100 percent conviction that exercising is an absolutely necessary part of weight management.
So this year, you’ll be hearing much more from me about the importance of keeping your body moving, as much and as often as you can.
What are the benefits of exercise?
The list is endless and each item on this list is interrelated, meaning one benefit leads to many others:
• Weight management
• Prevention of chronic disease, from heart disease to diabetes to cancer and on and on
• Stress management – stress is one of the biggest contributors to chronic disease
• Greater muscle mass – muscle burns more calories than fat
• Improved metabolism
• Increased bone density
• Anti-aging effects
• Better sleep – research shows that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight
• Improved balance, which prevents falls, particularly in the elderly
• Removal of toxins from the body
• Improved cardiovascular health
• Better mood and less depression
• Stronger immune system
The bottom line: Every physiological and many psychological aspects of health and well-being are improved through regular exercise.
As a lifelong lover of exercise, here are a few tips I want to share:
Do what you love. If you are going to engage in physical activity on a regular basis for the rest of your life, you have to find activities that give you pleasure and you look forward to be doing.
Find your motivator. Whether a high-energy music mix, workout partner or picture of your kids you want to be able to play with, find what it is that is going to get you moving day in and day out.
Set specific and realistic goals and write them down. It’s not enough to say you are going to exercise more, because what does that really mean? Write down how many days a week you are willing to exercise and what type you are going to engage in each day. Set short-term goals that are realistic, rather than long-term goals that may turn out to be unrealistic. Reaching short-term goals will give you more confidence and motivation to work towards more advanced goals.
Write down which obstacles can prevent you from exercising, and find solutions to overcoming them. If evening workouts tend to get pushed aside for late nights at the office, work out first thing in the morning. If coming home first prevents you from getting out the door again, work out before returning in the evening.
Prioritize your exercising by scheduling workouts into your daily calendar. You wouldn’t miss a work meeting, would you? If you are serious about fitness, you have to prioritize it. At the start of each week, write your workout schedule on your calendar so you can plan around it.
Fit in additional bouts of movement whenever and wherever you can. Even if you get that hour workout in, sitting for more than six hours every day is detrimental to health. For every hour at work, get up and take a lap around the office. Stand and pace while on the phone. Take the dog for a walk instead of letting him out in the yard. Schedule walking meetings.
Document your achievements by blogging or journaling. Going public is a great motivator to reaching your goals (why else do you think so many people are auditioning for “The Biggest Loser”?) Documenting your physical and emotional goals and feelings is a constant reminder of the good you are doing for yourself and helps you to evaluate your next steps.
Get out of your comfort zone. You have to get uncomfortable to see real change. Once you’ve become used to a certain exercise routine, your body is operating more on momentum and you are getting less from your efforts. If you can’t afford a regular trainer, hire one every six weeks or so to give you a new workout regimen.
Whenever possible, take your workout outside. Exercising in unfamiliar terrain burns more calories and gives you a great mental workout, too. Many people find the outdoors to be calming and more enjoyable.
Give your brain a vacation but not your body. There’s nothing worse than working hard for eight months only to give it all up during a vacation. A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Vacation is the perfect time to try new physical activities that are new and invigorating. Make physical activity a part of your vacation routine, and you’ll continue to do it for years to come.
Rachel Begun, MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). She provides education, communications and consulting services to health organizations and the food industry and educates the public via speaking opportunities, online activities and writing for publications, including her own blog, The Gluten-RD. For more information, please visit http://www.rachelbegun.com
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