Exercise: How to Get Going

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Exercise: How to Get Going

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Is joining a gym, buying expensive workout clothes, and climbing onto a machine the only way to get fit? No way. Whatever gets you up and moving will get you on the right track. On April 1, 2004, we talked about fitness in the real world, and learned about fun, inexpensive options with exercise guru Pamela Santin.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome Pam. What is the most important thing to consider when starting an exercise program?

SANTIN:
The most important thing, when starting, is your readiness to start. If you have any medical problems at all you need medical clearance before you start, but for almost all people exercise is appropriate and beneficial, and everyone can start an exercise program. Really, the most important thing in starting is finding an activity you will do on a consistent basis.

MODERATOR:
So an exercise program doesn't have to involve a gym membership or expensive equipment to be of value?

SANTIN:
Absolutely correct. If you think of exercise as moving your large muscles you can do it with no equipment; open your front door and start walking and you're a regular exerciser. Gyms are great if you'll use them and they have the kind of equipment you want to use, but many people get gym memberships and don't use them. I recommend getting a two-week trial membership at a gym to make sure you're going to be happy at that facility.

"For people working, I recommend taking a 15 or 20 minute walking break at lunch. It's a perfect way to fit in exercise and it totally recharges your batteries for the afternoon."

MODERATOR:
How much walking and at what pace does it take to have a positive benefit?

SANTIN:
The Surgeon General's guideline is 30 minutes of moderate exercise, preferably on all days of the week. When we look at walking, the same rules apply; we're looking at 30 minutes of walking. Now that's not very much, but if you can't fit in 30 minutes, how about 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at dinnertime, or three 10-minute chunks of exercise? It all adds up the same and the benefits are the same.

For people working, I recommend taking a 15 or 20 minute walking break at lunch. It's a perfect way to fit in exercise and it totally recharges your batteries for the afternoon.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I have been working out at a gym for over two years. I have mixed up my routines but I still can't find the right balance of cardio activity vs. muscle conditioning or yoga. What do you suggest?

SANTIN:
First off, congratulations; two years in the gym, and you're combining aerobic, strength training, and flexibility, which is perfect. On the other hand, you don't want to spend your life in the gym trying to fit in all those components. How much to do?

Aerobic exercise, the cardiovascular portion, should be the foundation of your exercise program. So, if you're doing 30 to 45 minutes of aerobics at the gym, supplement that with strength training every other day. Strength training doesn't have to take a long time; you can get a good strength training workout in 20 minutes.

Yoga is fantastic for flexibility and for relaxation. You certainly can do yoga every day of the week, if you have time, because you'll see benefits every day of the week. If you find you don't have time, then three days a week is great.

The other thing you may want to think of, if you've been doing the same workout for two years, is that it may be time to fine tune that workout. If there's a personal trainer or exercise physiologist ask them to walk through your strength training routine with you, because you're spending the time and effort and you want to get the maximum results.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What is the best way to set and measure
fitness goals? Would weight and body fat, measurements be good indicators that you're on the right track? How do you determine what are healthy measurements, etc. for yourself and what a reasonable amount of time is to reach those goals?

SANTIN:
Wow, that's an excellent question. Goals are very individualized; you decide what you're shooting for. I recommend setting short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals can be accomplished in two to three weeks; long-term goals you're shooting for two months and longer. So your short-term goal might be to lose two pounds over the next two weeks; a long-term goal might be to enter your first 5K road race six months from now.

Another kind of goal, especially if you're a beginner exerciser, is an exercise-based goal. For instance, "I'll exercise four days this week," and when you do that consistently for a month, don't forget to give yourself a reward for reaching your goals.

How do you know what goals to set? There are guidelines you can follow from the American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org), and you can look at what your ideal body weight should be so you have some realistic expectations. In terms of weight loss, we consider realistic appropriate weight loss to be a half to two pounds per week. It's important to know what appropriate guidelines are, because if in your mind you think, "I want to lose 5 pounds this week," and you lose 2 pounds, you could be disappointed when really you should be celebrating. Also look at the WebMD site, where you'll find body mass index charts, and you can estimate your own body mass and set goals based on that.

"If you think about the goal, which is lifetime fitness, it's about being active every single day; it's not to get exercise over and done with, but to become a more active person for your entire life."

Quick GuidePictures of the 7 Most Effective Exercises to Do at the Gym or Home (and Tips to Improve Form)

Pictures of the 7 Most Effective Exercises to Do at the Gym or Home (and Tips to Improve Form)

But don't live and die by the scale, because pounds often are not a good indicator of what's actually going on with your body. Body fat's a good indicator, and measurements are good indicators, so get out your tape measure and actually take measurements. Sometimes the scale doesn't move, but your measurements change. Even if you don't see changes in body fat or on that scale, think about how you feel. When you feel better when you exercise, and you will, that's a good motivator to keep you exercising.

MEMBER QUESTION:
So is it better to do bursts of lots of activity over a few days then go a week or two without working out, or to do a little bit, like 15 minutes, every day?

SANTIN:
Exercising at high intensity in short bursts for a short amount of time is a great way to get injured. It's much better to do lower levels of activity consistently. That idea that we can cram a week's worth of exercise into one or two days is just setting you up for failure, because you'll be sore, you'll be injured, you'll be tired, and you won't want to continue.

If you think about the goal, which is lifetime fitness, it's about being active every single day; it's not to get exercise over and done with, but to become a more active person for your entire life.

MEMBER QUESTION:
My goal is simply to not be so tired all the time. Is there a particular kind of exercise -- cardio vs. weight training for example -- that is better for getting energized?

SANTIN:
That's a great goal to have. Exercise will definitely increase your energy level. Aerobic exercise is the place to start. If you've been sedentary up to this point, start slowly. Walking is a great start; try 20 minutes building up to 30 minutes every day. You may find exercising first thing in the morning is most beneficial, because that really boosts your energy to start your day.

If you're not used to exercising, you may find you feel more tired for the first week or two, but hang in there, because your energy level will definitely increase.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is a treadmill a good way to lose weight? I watch what I eat.

SANTIN:
A treadmill is a great way to lose weight, but it doesn't matter that it's a treadmill; it's aerobic activity. If you think about weight loss, it takes 3,500 calories to make 1 pound. So to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume. When you use aerobic exercise equipment it often has a calorie measure telling you how many calories you burn. Don't go by those. You could walk on the treadmill for half an hour and it tells you that you burned 200 calories. You think, "Big deal. That's like an apple." But you didn't just burn 200 calories. Not only do you increase how many calories you burned during the exercise, you continue to burn calories at a higher rate for up to two hours after the exercise. This is one of the great benefits of exercise. Exercise increases your metabolism so you burn calories at a higher rate.

"Being active in our daily lives, like working on a farm, or raking leaves, or working in the garden, absolutely counts as exercise."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I started working out in January -- weights two times per week and aerobic four times per week. Spring is here and I live on a farm and will start riding horses and such. Can I cut back on my "in-the-gym" routine?

SANTIN:
This is such a great question, because it addresses lifestyle fitness. Being active in our daily lives, like working on a farm, or raking leaves, or working in the garden, absolutely counts as exercise. So if you're lifting bales of hay or moving large quantities of earth, yes, that is strength training. You'll be able to cut back in the gym and keep improving your fitness level by staying active on the farm. Most importantly, it's probably more fun to be active outside with the horse rather than going to the gym, and you cannot discount the fun factor in exercise.

MEMBER QUESTION:
It's been a few years since I exercised regularly -- I'm in my mid-30s now. Should I have a plan in place before talking to my doc about getting in shape? What exactly will he check to make sure I don't keel over?

SANTIN:
Good for you for getting back to exercise. You have the right idea to talk to your doctor. What your doctor will check for is to make sure you don't have any underlying physical problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, or any other indicators that you should be monitored more closely when you exercise. Let your doctor help you put a plan in place for your exercise.

But keep in mind the exercises you choose to do need to be fun, so you'll stick with it. That may be walking, swimming, or getting your bike out of the basement. It doesn't have to be training for the Boston marathon, especially when you're just getting started. But if you can't get to see your doctor right away, don't let that stop you from starting to exercise; just get out and start walking. You're absolutely right to get medical clearance, but don't feel like you can't start walking now.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I'm currently doing Pilates, aerobics, and sculpting my body. I've been able to keep my weight down and have seen good results, except for my lower stomach. It's what you would call a pouch. It's like a bulge that seems to show a bit more now that I'm shapely everywhere else. Even while I'm eating or right after it seems to look and feel bigger. What do you suggest?

SANTIN:
It really sounds like you're doing everything right. I'm sure you know there's no such thing as spot reducing, which means you can't target a specific area of your body to lose weight; when we lose weight, we lose it equally throughout our body. But you can spot tone. It sounds like you're already working on that area of your body. If you're doing crunches already, talk to the fitness professional at your gym about targeting your lower abs.

My own opinion of it is that you probably tend to carry your fat in that region, and you've built muscle mass, you've conditioned your body, and you have that storage fat, and that's just where you're going to carry it, so you may never get those washboard abs that you're looking for. As we age that fat tends to hang on longer, and abdominal fat tends to be hardest to get rid of. But give yourself credit for the Pilates and working out. That's a great fitness plan.

"Fifty percent of everyone who starts an exercise program, whether at a gym or on their own, quit within the first six months. You want to make sure you're not one of them."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I find exercising difficult because I have
lower back pain, and also bad knees. Are there any NO IMPACT exercises I can do that won't hurt me?

SANTIN:
A great no impact exercise is getting in the water. Whether it's swimming laps or water aerobics or jogging in the water, you'll see great fitness gains and no impact on your joints, which is perfect for people with knee and back problems. Even if you don't swim, there are water jogging classes, where you wear a flotation vest and run in the water. So check out your local Y or aquatic center or health club and find out what kind of water-based classes they offer. These programs are getting very popular, so you might be surprised to find out how many there are.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Gyms are intimidating to me, but I feel like having a membership might guilt me into getting in shape (don't want to waste all that money). Are there any studies that show that people tend to stick to exercise if they join a gym, as apposed to just trying to get in shape at home?

Quick GuidePictures of the 7 Most Effective Exercises to Do at the Gym or Home (and Tips to Improve Form)

Pictures of the 7 Most Effective Exercises to Do at the Gym or Home (and Tips to Improve Form)

SANTIN:
Don't join a gym because you think the guilt will get you to go; it won't. If you're intimidated by a gym visit a number of different health clubs to find one that feels good to you. There are so many options from YMCAs to women-only health clubs, to gigantic big clubs with lots of weight machines, and I'm guessing that's what probably intimidates you. Get a trial membership to try out the equipment; every club will give you a free visit to see how you like it.

Now, the second part of your question: Do people who join a health club stick with exercise? Well, I'm afraid the statistics are rather grim. Fifty percent of everyone who starts an exercise program, whether at a gym or on their own, quit within the first six months. You want to make sure you're not one of them. How are you going to do that?

  • Schedule exercise into your day. Many people say, "I'll exercise when I find the time." But there is no time to find. We make time for what's important.
  • Ask yourself, "Why do I want to exercise," and set some goals and write them down.
  • Make a plan to exercise. Just start with three days a week and build up from there, because five years from now you don't want to be in the position of saying, "I'm just getting back to exercise, how do I do it?" You want to be a regular exerciser. You absolutely can.
  • Check out the exercise program on this WebMD site, because you can sign up for a newsletter and reminders. They will email you to help keep you motivated.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I am interested in adding some weight training to my exercise program, which right now includes walking and some stretching exercises. I know it isn't much at this point, but I want to gain strength and think weight training is the way to go. How do I get started and keep safe? Do I have to buy a bar and weights?

SANTIN:
You're absolutely right; weight training is the way to go. A small amount of effort will reap big strength benefits. It takes very little time to fit strength training into your routine. The Surgeon General recommends that aerobic exercise be supplemented with strength training twice per week. That's not a lot. So start by just adding two days of weight lifting to your program. I recommend you buy a set of small, handheld dumbbells, from 1 pound to 8 pounds. They're not expensive at all.

A really great resource for getting started with weight training at home is a book that Tuft's University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out. You can download it at the CDC website: cdc.gov. It's just some simple strength training exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, and lower body exercises.

"Exercise is a very self-rewarding activity. You will be so glad you started."

Don't combine strength training with aerobics. For example, don't wear ankle weights while you walk. Some people think they can kill two birds with one stone, but all you'll do is injure your joints that way.

Strength training is a really exciting element to your exercise program. Adding strength will increase your energy and there's something really rewarding about getting stronger. So good for you, and good luck.

MODERATOR:
We are almost out of time. Pam, do you have any final words for us?

SANTIN:
When you think about adding exercise into your life, we all know we should exercise, but for many of us it's hard to start, and it's hard to stick with it. To stay motivated, ask yourself this question: How many times have you exercised and at the end of that day said, "I wish I had not exercised today?" Never, right? But how many times have you not exercised and at the end of the day said, "I wish I'd exercised today?" Exercise is a very self-rewarding activity. You will be so glad you started.

MODERATOR:
Thanks for joining us, members, and thanks to Pamela Santin, MS, for sharing her expertise with us. And thanks to you, members for your great questions.



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Reviewed on 3/30/2005 10:40:16 PM

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