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Exercise Routine for Weight Loss


QUESTION:

Can you recommend a good weekly exercise routine for weight loss?

ANSWER:

There are many myths circulating through popular fitness magazines and gyms concerning the best way to exercise in order to lose weight and decrease body fat.  Such myths have confused many people and have given this topic a more complex aura than it deserves.  Weight loss depends on a simple deficit between energy intake and energy expenditure.  To lose body fat, you need to expend more calories through your basal metabolism (i.e., energy expended just to support basic bodily functions) and physical activity than you ingest.  I have previously explained the importance of small, sustained reductions in caloric intake.  Today we will focus on the energy expenditure component of the equation.

There are three components to a good weight loss exercise regimen.  First, it should have a cardio-respiratory or aerobic component.  This encompasses activities that train your heart by utilizing large muscle groups, and activities that are rhythmic in nature, such as walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, skating, hiking or stair climbing.  This aerobic portion of your exercise routine should be performed on most days of the week.  The length of time and intensity of the exercise will depend on your fitness level and goals.

The second component is strength training.  Strength training will help maintain bone mineral density and increase lean body mass (i.e., muscle), thereby increasing your metabolic rate.  Train each major muscle group at least twice per week.

The third component is absolutely essential to your success.  To be effective, your exercise routine must be one that you will perform! In other words, the best weight loss exercise routine for you is one that you will enjoy and will return to day after day, week after week, and month after month.  Everyone has different preferences in the type of activities that they enjoy and it's important to explore your personal likes and dislikes when planning your activities.  Consistency and persistence are major determinants in whether people are successful, both in losing weight and keeping it off long-term.  Whether or not you enjoy your exercise routine greatly impacts your ability to be consistent with it over the long run.

The following questions may help guide you in choosing activities:
  • In the past, maybe as a child growing up, did you prefer individual sports or team sports?  Think about gym class and identify which type of activities you enjoyed the most.

  • Are you competitive by nature, or do you prefer a less aggressive environment for your leisure activities?

  • What are your current finances and what type of equipment can you afford?  At this time, maybe a good pair of walking shoes fits your budget, but a road bike doesn't. 

  • Do you enjoy a gym atmosphere, or would you rather be performing an outdoors activity?

  • Will paying for a club membership motivate you to attend, or will it make exercise more of a burden and induce guilt?

  • Do you enjoy working out with other people in a class setting?  Do you find this environment motivating and supportive, or too restrictive?
To increase your chances of successfully finding activities that you'll enjoy for years to come, consider doing a variety of activities, also known as cross training.  Cross training gives your body and mind the best workout possible by challenging a variety of muscles in different ways and preventing exercise boredom and burnout.

I've provided a sample week of an exercise regimen for an individual who, after some exploration, identifies that she really enjoyed swimming as a child, loves being outdoors and lives near a hiking trail, and has an interest in learning how to Salsa dance.

Sun. Mon. Tues. Wed. Thurs. Fri. Sat.
1 hour - Hike 30 minutes - Swim at YMCA

20 minutes - Perform full-body strength training
30 minutes - Hike after work 1 hour - Evening Salsa Dance Class 30 minutes - Swim at YMCA

20 minutes - Perform full-body strength training
30 minutes - Hike after work Day Off

If you have been sedentary for some time, finding activities that you enjoy may take time.  If you find that you don't like what you've originally set up, don't give up in frustration.  Explore some new activities until you find some that you enjoy.  There are endless ways to incorporate exercise and activity into your day - find what works for you!

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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