Exercise: How to Get Going (cont.)

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."

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.