Working Out in a Winter Wonderland: A Live Chat with Rich Weil, MEd, CDE

Maintain that workout this season -- and feel great!

By Rich Weil, MEd, CDE
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript
Event Date: Dec. 3, 2003

The time and energy demands of the season mean even a basic fitness routine is tough to stick to. But keeping up your workout is a great way to reduce stress and stay on a healthy track. For our Holiday Survival Guide cyberconference, WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's own exercise physiologist, Rich Weil, showed us how.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's 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.

Member question: How many sit-ups equal a large slice of cheesecake? How much exercise do I have to add to compensate for holiday goodies?

Weil: This is a good question. The benefit from the exercise will go beyond the calories burned in relation to how much you eat. Exercise certainly burns lots of calories and you can figure that you will burn 100 calories for every mile that you walk if you weigh 150 pounds, but even more important is that the walking or any other exercise will help keep you focused on staying healthy during the holiday period when food is abundant.

Don't underestimate how important staying active is, not only for calories burned, but also for staying in the mindset of eating healthy.

Research shows that active people do tend to eat fewer calories, and we all know that exercise relieves stress. Stress is a big factor in how much we eat, particularly during the holiday season. If you can try to get in even a 20 to 30-minute walk on five or more days of the week, it will help a lot in getting you through this food-difficult period.

So hang in there, with at least 30 minutes of activity each day, and the holidays should be kind to you in terms of how much you eat and how many calories you take in.

Member question: How many calories does an hour of aerobics burn?

Weil: One hour of aerobics, for a 150-pound person, will burn anywhere from 400 to 600 calories. Keep in mind that you not only burn the extra calories while you're active, but people who exercise regularly tend to move more, walk more, and are more active during the day. So it's not just the 400 to 600 calories you might burn during the bout of exercise, but you will burn more if you climb the stairs and other activities of daily living that people who exercise regularly tend to do.

The bottom line to losing weight and maintaining weight is to, No. 1, eat fewer calories than you burn, and No. 2, at the end of the day, make sure your "24-hour energy expenditure" is more than the number of calories that you ate all day. The 24-hour energy expenditure is really where it's at, and with an hour of aerobic exercise and more lifestyle exercise, you should be able to manage your weight just fine.

Member question: I'm so short on both time and energy at this time of year. How can I manage to fit a workout in with everything else I have to do?

Weil: This is one of the most difficult periods of time for staying active and healthy. Not only are there parties and lots of food, but also it's also colder, so people tend to stay indoors more, and eat more.

The schedule is very busy, but what is important to keep in mind is that you don't need to do a full 60-minute workout at the gym, even 10 minutes several times per day will help you stay fit and healthy.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. If you can go out for a brisk 10 to 15-minute walk or a jog and then come home and do one set of push-ups and one set of abdominal crunches you will be amazed at how effective this can be to keep you on track. People tend to make the mistake that you need to do the full workout every time. You don't. You will gain the fitness benefits and the emotional stress relieving benefits if you can do even just a brief 10- to 15-minute workout.

In addition you can try, on the weekend or other times when you are off from work or away from other responsibilities, to go ahead and get your full workout in. But again, during the busy week, even just 10 to 15 minutes will make a very large difference. So don't think all or nothing; think smaller doses and staying in the groove that way, until your schedule lightens up and you have more time again.

Member question: I have synovial fluid on the back of my knee, and because it's getting worse my exercise motivation has seriously declined. I don't want to take the pain pills I was prescribed because once they wear off I am in more pain than I started with. Would a knee brace help?

Weil: Probably not, but you should see your physician for clear guidance on this particular issue. There are treatments for synovial fluid that can be effective, but need to be managed by your physician.

Member question: I do high-intensity aerobics three times a week along with weight lifting. What should I be eating before my workouts?

Weil: If you find your energy is depleted during or towards the end of your workout, then a snack 45 minutes to an hour before may be helpful. The snack could be a complex carbohydrate, like half a bagel and some protein, maybe peanut butter, or you could have one of the energy bars, which have a good healthy mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

If your energy is not low during the workout, and you're not famished after the workout, then a pre-exercise meal may not be necessary. There is some research that shows that eating protein and carbohydrate prior to your workout will help with recovery from the workout, but this is difficult to measure and you may not notice any difference.

So pay attention to your energy level during and towards the end of your workout, and your hunger after the workout. If neither of those are a problem you can probably skip the pre-exercise snack.

Member question: Does a treadmill work as good as getting out in the open and walking?

Weil: Yes, the treadmill and running outdoors are very comparable, and you should not worry about which one you do. They both burn lots of calories and will help you stay fit and healthy. Many endurance athletes, such as triathletes and marathoners, train on a treadmill to reduce the risk of knee injuries because the treadmill tends to be softer. Both activities will be effective for your health and your fitness, so you can select either.

Member question: I have also heard riding horses burns calories, is that true?

Weil: Yes. No. 1, it will build great strength in the thighs and the legs in general. The posture necessary for horseback riding in the torso is very energy intensive, and it is a challenging muscular activity for the body. Because it is challenging, the calorie cost can be almost comparable to some gymnastics activities. In terms of calorie expenditure, if you weigh 150 pounds, you may burn anywhere from 350 to 450 calories per hour while riding a horse.

"You should not wear any cotton...[There's] an expression, "Cotton Kills," because cotton stays wet and loses heat rapidly."

Interestingly, if it is cold outside you may burn even more calories, 10 to 15% more.

So it is a challenging amount of work and you should enjoy it.

Member question: I'd love to start working out, but my problem is I can't do much with my arm. Is there anything I can to without using my right arm to keep off holiday weight?

Weil: Sure. Walking is not only one of the most popular activities, but it also burns lots of calories. In addition, it's a great stress reliever to take a walk during holiday parties and other food events. Walking is also inexpensive and you can do it virtually anywhere. It won't require your arms or your shoulders or back, so you should be fine using just your legs and burning lots of calories. Good luck.

Member question: I was reading some of the messages you posted on the Weight Loss Clinic about "winterizing" your workout and those were really helpful! I think I'm going to get some exercise tubes and give that a try. How long of a workout should I start out with? I'm not in "great" shape right now (I walk at a fast pace for a half hour a day, five days a week right now).

Weil: Thirty minutes of brisk aerobic activity is enough for fitness and for your health. So if you're already doing that three to five times per week, then resistance exercise, like weightlifting or the tubing, is a good idea. You can use the tubing two to three times per week, and from that amount you will gain strength and tone and build muscle. Muscle will help you burn calories and will help you maintain your metabolic rate. So I encourage you to get started with the tubes and you can always add more later on.

For those who don't know what the tubing is, it's elastic rubber tubes that are thin, with handles at either end, and you can lift and stretch them to mimic weightlifting exercises with dumbbells. They are effective, inexpensive, and portable.

In terms of starting a program I recommend eight to 10 exercises one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. So you may do as few as 10 exercises or as many as 30 exercises if you do three sets of 10 repetitions. But for starters, one set of 10 to 15 repetitions with eight to 10 of your favorite exercises in addition to the 30 minutes of aerobic activity is a terrific workout.

Member question: I live in a wintry, snowy area and I prefer my exercise outdoors. How can I deal with the frigid temperatures while walking?

Weil: Great question. First off, let me tell you that we know that during winter people's physical activity level decreases significantly because of the cold. In fact, research shows that physical activity can decrease by as much as 50 minutes per day; calories burned can decrease by as much as 15 to 20% per week. This means a decrease in fitness level and, in some cases, added body weight. So it is important to stay active and I encourage outdoor activity as much as possible.

What can you do? Clothing is the critical element. You need to wear synthetic materials. Polypropylene is a generic synthetic fiber that wicks away moisture from your skin and dries quickly so that your skin stays dry. If you put layers of synthetic clothing, then not only does the clothing stay dry, but the layers trap your body heat.

You should not wear any cotton at all. Winter campers and mountaineers have an expression, "Cotton Kills," because cotton stays wet and loses heat rapidly. So wear synthetic or polypropylene underwear, socks, tights, upper shirts, hat, scarves, and gloves, and over these layers, a wind shell that will keep the wind out. You can buy Gore-Tex shells that breathe and let the moisture out, as well. You can add as many layers as you like, including a wool sweater under the shell. The trick is, stay dry and trap the heat. I guarantee you that if you go out for exercise in the cold and wear that clothing and those layers, you will be comfortable.

I also recommend the first few times to start close to home and finish where you can get back inside after the workout, because the clothing works best while you're exercising. So do your workout and then try to get back indoors.

One final point: When you go out for your workout, it's okay to feel a little chilled with this clothing on, because once you start moving you will warm up very, very quickly.

Enjoy the cold weather. With today's high-tech fabrics it should not deter you from all the activities you want to do.

Member: Come to Hawaii. It's still sunny

Moderator: Good idea! I hope you have room for all of us from the frozen 48.

Member question: What gives you a more thorough workout, the Stairmaster or the elliptical trainer (at a peak incline), both for about 40 minutes?

Weil: Both machines are very similar at their peak in terms of aerobic benefit. They are both very tough and burn lots of calories. You will burn similar amounts of calories on both machines, both at low levels of intensity as well as at high levels. You should make your choice more on which machine feels comfortable or simply which one you enjoy more.

The key element is to monitor your heart rate during the activities. If your heart rate is within six beats of each other on both machines you can be fairly certain that you're burning similar amounts of calories.

Moderator: Do you have any final comments for us, Rich?

Weil: Don't let winter and the holidays sidetrack you. Stick with exercise throughout the winter. If it means joining a gym for three months or even purchasing an inexpensive stationary bike for three months or investing in some outdoor clothing for exercise, it will be important to stick with it and stay focused on staying active. This is the time of year when people tend to exercise less, and in fact, research shows cholesterol levels go higher in the winter; so staying active is critical.

Don't let the holidays and cold distract you. If you can do that, you will have a fit and healthy winter and holiday season. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Moderator: Thanks to Rich Weil, MEd, CDE, for joining us. For more information on nutrition and healthy weight loss, be sure to visit the Weight Loss Clinic and subscribe to take advantage of all the tools, tips, and expert help they offer.

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