Fitness -- Let's Get Going (cont.)

Member: How about running up and down my stairs a few times? No equipment to buy!

Weil: Stair-climbing is intense and vigorous exercise. If you do this, you should pace yourself, stretch your legs and your calves really well and build up slowly. So maybe five minutes, if that's all you can do the first week, and then increase by a few minutes every third or fourth workout, or every week.

A researcher by the name of Boreham did a wonderful study in England a few years ago with women who were in their early 20s who worked in an office. What he had them do over seven weeks was walk up and down the stairs in their office once a day for the first week, and then over the seven weeks, had them increase the number of times they climbed the stairs each day. So by the end of seven weeks, they were climbing the stairs seven times per day. However, they did not climb the stairs all at once. They climbed seven different times throughout the day. Each time they climbed it took two minutes, roughly. So by week seven they were climbing seven different times per day for two minutes each time. At the end of seven weeks, they were about 15% to 20% more fit than they were at the beginning of the study. So stair-climbing is good exercise, but it's hard, and you need to pace yourself.

Member: Any advice for someone who is very busy and wants to lose 10 pounds or so and do some body sculpting?

Weil: The first thing that I recommend to someone with a busy schedule who wants to lose weight is to evaluate two things: one is their diet and caloric intake, and two, their daily physical activity. Virtually everyone will lose weight with or without exercise if they reduce their caloric intake. People lose weight all the time without any exercise at all.

Now, as far as the exercise, this is good news, because it means that you do not have to do lots of exercise to lose weight. If you reduce your caloric intake, you will lose weight. As you lose more weight, it will be easier to move and if you continue to increase your physical activity as you continue to lose more weight, then by the time you reach your target weight, you should be moving enough to maintain the weight loss. As for body sculpting, as you lose weight and reduce body fat, you will start to see the muscles that were hiding under the excess fat, and if you engage in simple toning exercises like the rubber bands or simple calisthenics, the muscles will respond and along with any increase in walking and other daily activity, you will start to see a significant change in your physique.

So it can be done with attention to your caloric intake and a modest amount of physical activity, like walking, and some type of toning or conditioning exercises like the rubber bands or calisthenics. Even five to 10 minutes of an exercise video designed to improve muscularity and tone will help.

Member: Will any kind of exercise help fight mild depression?

Weil: It is very clear that exercise will alleviate the symptoms of mild to moderate depression, but not major depression. If there is major depression, it needs to be treated with medication or other therapy. One of the issues with depression and exercise is that people frequently ask, "Well, I know that exercise can help with depression, but I'm too depressed to do it, I don't have the energy." And the answer is that sometimes you do have to wait for the depression to pass, but other times the simple act of making a decision to take a walk around your block as a way to get started will help alleviate some of the symptoms. So the simple act of taking care of yourself will help.

I remember a woman I knew who went through a period of two weeks of depression, which isn't that long, and she had a treadmill at home, and what she did was once she felt even a little better, she just stood on the treadmill, and once she stood on the treadmill she was able to turn it on and start to work. And once she was able to walk for five to ten minutes, she felt like it really helped the depression. There have also been some studies to show that exercise, compared with medication, has a similar effect in the brain. And so exercise truly can help with treatment of depression.

Member: Does exercising close to bedtime make it easier or harder to fall asleep? Sometimes after the kids are in bed is the only time I have to stick in an aerobics tape.

Weil: This is a myth of sorts. The research shows that deconditioned, out-of-shape people may experience some loss of sleep if they exercise close to bedtime. But people who are more conditioned don't experience this. And then, of course, if you start as a deconditioned person at night, within just a few weeks you will become more conditioned and loss of sleep won't be an issue. In addition, it's very important to be physically active and we all do have busy schedules, and so the best time to exercise is the time that you can squeeze it in.

Moderator: Rich, we are almost out of time. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any final comments for us?

Weil: Exercise and physical activity are all about taking care of yourself. That's what it is. We owe it to ourselves to be physically active people. Whether it's weightlifting, running, jogging, going to the gym, walking tours with your family on the weekend, it's critical that we become a physically active population. Currently less than 25 percent of the population is physically active enough to gain any benefit from physical activity. It's expensive medically to be sedentary, and a sedentary lifestyle is a major preventable cause of death in the United States. We don't need to get bogged down in whether we do one type or the other; all physical activity is good for us, and we just need to make the commitment to ourselves to become physically active people at whatever pace we're comfortable. If we do, we will experience all the joy that movement and good health can offer.

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