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What's Good for the New You in 2004?

If you're resolving -- again -- to lose weight or get in shape in the New Year, here's a look at some popular fitness programs and what they might offer you.

By Jean Lawrence
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Is your New Year's Resolution to lose weight? Build muscle? Change your lifelong patterns? And all in minutes a day? There's a bewildering array of books, gizmos, and celebrity-endorsed regimens to choose from. Here's a look at some popular programs and what they might offer you.

Before You Lift the Phone or a Finger

Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist of the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, tells WebMD exercise is pretty simple. "To strength train, you must overload the muscles (with weights), which stimulates them to become larger and stronger. To strengthen your heart (cardio) you need to move a large mass (usually you) in a rhythmic way."

Bryant recommends asking yourself what you enjoy. Obviously, you want to pick activities that are safe and appropriate. "Everyone always says, consult a doctor before starting," Bryant notes. "But it is a good idea for women over 55 and men over 45 to be sure they don't have a condition that isn't showing up. ... You don't want to find out the hard way."

You might also want to buddy up with a friend. "Be sure you have similar fitness levels," Bryant advises. "Competition, even if unstated, can arise. Your schedules must also mesh."

But if a friend is not available and the gym isn't calling you, there are alternatives.

Synergetics

Taylor Hay, the founder of this simple, 12-minute, twice-a-day exercise program and author, with Joanna Hay, of Synergetics: Your Whole Life Fitness Plan, burned out as a real estate mogul before trying to re-create simple routes to human motion. Although his regimen is described as the American tai chi, he tells WebMD it varies in that the hands are joined and thus the energy is not "thrown away." "This flexes every muscle in the body, including the face, in 12 minutes," Hay tells WebMD.

Gripping a tool called the pocketgym, the exerciser performs slow, continuous, circular movements right after rising and before bed each evening. The motions are accompanied by "power breathing," which Hay says provides amazing cardio benefits, raising the heart rate 40 to 50 points in 60 seconds. "Yet," he says, "30 seconds after finishing, you are not winded."

If you perform Synergetics the prescribed times, you will exercise every muscle 5,600 hundred times a week and bump your metabolism as much as 20%, Hay insists. Increased metabolism means increased fat burning.

Take the Body-for-Life Challenge

What if someone paid you to exercise? Would that help? The 6-year-old Body-for-Life Challenge costs nothing, and you might win $100,000! The corporation that sponsors it claims that people who have entered the challenge and have changed their overall health would do it for no prize.

Christine Steele, PhD, vice president for nutrition of EAS in Golden, Colo., tells WebMD the challenge can be performed at home. The essence is to eat six small, moderate meals a day and perform the exercises, which include a combination of resistance and aerobics exercises. Each session is 20 minutes to one hour long. As for the meals, "We try to be practical," Steele says. "We tell you to eat palm-sized pieces of meat or fist-sized carb sources."

The challenge is 12 weeks long, and winners are selected based not only on physical results but also on how the program changed their life (yes, an essay question). "How far you take it depends on you," Steele says, noting that couples often join together.

Participants are not encouraged to lose more than two pounds a week. "More is not good," Steele says.

Got 8 Minutes?

A formerly overweight young man who hated it, Jorge Cruise developed a 28-day, varied eating and exercise program called Eight Minutes in the Morning. In his book of the same title, he maintains that his program will help you drop two pounds of fat a week and increase muscle and energy. Participants keep a journal and concentrate on upping their resting metabolism.

As you grow older, Cruise tells WebMD, your lean muscle starts to dissipate at the rate of five pounds of lean muscle a decade (replaced by fat, so you might not see a weight loss). Lean muscle, however, burns fat for energy rather than just lying there. So that means in each decade, you may be getting 250 calories less fat burned as you go through your day.

The new lean muscle created by his program, Cruise says, burns fat 24/7.

Cruise has several versions of his 8-minute exercise segment, one for people who need to lose less than 30 pounds and one for those who need to lose more. For those needing to use less, the routine involves dumbbells. Eight Minutes for Real Shapes, Real Sizes involves hefting only the body's own weight.

"You roll out of bed, two moves, you're done," he says. "The other 23 hours and 52 minutes, you burn fat."

The diet portion consists of small meals every three hours made up of "muscle-making" foods such as lean chicken, steak, egg whites, and yes, some carbs. "Those are the energy source for building the muscle," he says.

Cruise notes, incidentally, that some people may wish to add a cardio activity.

Pilates

"Boomers, especially, need to be heart smart, brain smart, and flexible," Debbie Mandel, a fitness lecturer at Southampton College in New York and author of Turn ON Your Inner Light: Fitness for Mind, Body, and Soul, tells WebMD.

She is a believer in the 90-year-old stretching system called Pilates, which can be done at home on a mat or in a studio using machines called the Refomer and the Cadillac. Mandel prefers the mat.

Pilates are good for your core muscles and balance," she says.

Judith Lederman, a formerly overweight person who "took back her life," as she puts it, has also practiced Pilates for many years. She loves The Cadillac. "I went from Pilates, to cardio, to belly dancing, to Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Pilates is so good for my spine. The jujitsu has really added to my confidence -- I can flip men over on their backs."

Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., tells WebMD he commends Pilates but urges people to add strength training as well.

Some people don't want an hour-long workout with more time for driving and changing, Mandel says. "Find something that's right for you. And while you are thinking, get up, put on your shoes, and walk out the door. There is even a web site for walking -- www.walktowin.org.

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

Published Dec. 24, 2003.

SOURCES: Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise. Taylor Hay, founder, Synergetics; co-author, Synergetics: Your Whole Life Fitness Plan. Christine Steele, PhD, vice president for nutrition, EAS Corp., Golden, Colo. Jorge Cruise, author, Eight Minutes in the Morning. Debbie Mandel, fitness lecturer, Southampton College, New York; author, Turn ON Your Inner Light: Fitness for Mind, Body, and Soul. Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director, South Shore YMCA, Quincy, Mass.

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