Making the most of your exercise

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We exercise for many reasons, but the number one reason for women is to lose weight and be healthy. But are you being effective? Do you really know how many calories you are burning with your exercise routines? Need easier (and less expensive) ways to burn calories that are part of your daily routine rather than slaving away at the gym for 60 minutes? How do you know which exercises are best for you? Which routine most effectively burns the most calories in the shortest amount of time? And how about the best strategy for keeping your motivation?

Like with all things, consider your motivation for exercising. This will function as your starting place. The CDC and the American Heart Association recommend 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). The American Council on Exercise has a wealth of information on exercise as well as exercise programs for different needs and fitness goals. Like many of us, if your goal is weight loss you must create a calorie deficit by decreasing caloric intake and increasing your physical activity.

Could your perception of exercise be partially to blame for your lack of motivation? An interesting study looked at women’s brains and how being overweight or lean affects our emotional-self as it relates to working out. In the International Journal of Obesity, researchers designed a study that used MRI scanners and pictures of both physical and sedentary activities to scientifically gauge women’s feelings towards exercise. The results revealed that overweight women’s brains were put off by exercise, suggesting that they did not enjoy what they were seeing. At the same time, a portion of the brain related to dealing with negative emotions lit up far more when they viewed images of moving than of sitting. Emotionally, the brain scans suggested, they anticipated disliking physical activity (post-study survey showed they expected exercise to end in embarrassment). In leaner women their brain activity, by and large, was the opposite, lighting up when they watched others work out and envisaged doing the same themselves. Discouraging that this may also suggest obesity is a vicious cycle and self-reinforced? Perhaps. But there is a silver lining, be encouraged to find something you like to do that also burns calories. If you loathe even the thought of the treadmill and dumbbells, then don’t buy a treadmill and dumbbells! Don’t fight your brain’s unenthusiastic attitude toward exercise. Embrace it.

There are a million ways to burn calories, aside from an expensive annual gym membership that you may or may not continue to use beyond a few weeks. You’ve heard the usual tips: park farther away, take the stairs, walk to lunch. While they may be ho-hum suggestions, the calories burned can add up quick. Looking for other unique ways to burn calories? Here are a “20 ways to torch 200 calories“. Sitting at your office all day? Turns out actively sitting decreased your risk of chronic diseases including diabetes and back pain all while helping firm and tone back, buttocks and stomach. Active sitting is supported by the Mayo Clinic and other universities (read more here). Work out, then make out? We’ve long heard that sex burns calories, but a Canadian study in 2013 actually proved it. Sex, including foreplay, burns three calories per minute (jogging burns seven). And, I think most would agree with the 98% of the study participants that reported sex was more pleasurable than jogging.

Much like diet plans (or as I prefer to call them “life style changes”), there is no one-size-fits-all for exercise programs. Just do something. Research shows, it can be anything you like that you can carry out with moderate intensity. A few things that might interest you … Interval-style workouts are cardio workouts known for their short bursts of high intensity effort followed by brief periods of recover. But did you know about the added benefit of the “after burn”, which can raise your metabolic rate and burn calories for up to four hours after a session? Maximize your time with workouts that have both strength and cadio elements, like kettlebell training. A recent study from the American Council on Exercise found that total body exercises performed with a kettlebell burned a whopping 20.2 calories per minute, or about the equivalent to running a 6-minute mile.

So whether it’s a walking routine, Jillian Michaels, CrossFit, pilates, P90X, Hiit, Insanity, kickboxing, Zumba, couch to 5K, T25 … you-name-it workout, just pick one you find enjoyable and will do. Or even better, pick a few and mix it up. And for those of us needing an at-home routine, there’s a list of the top workout DVDs. Need daily variety? CrossFit and Hiit are two popular examples of the ones. You use your smart phone for everything already, why not add a fitness app? Not sure were to start and needs to kick start your workouts? Try a twelve week plan.

Try new things, banish boredom, find it enjoyable … DO SOMETHING every day.

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One thought on “Making the most of your exercise

  1. Pingback: Sitting, a health risk worth standing up for | Deciphering Venus

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