Exercise: How to Get Going (cont.)

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?

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.