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Put an end to start-and-stop exercising

By SALLY ANDERSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 2001


Last month I discussed some of the internal barriers that distance people from making a commitment to exercise. This column is dedicated to those who would like to introduce exercise into their lives as a focus for weight management but can't seem to break away from the "start-and-stop" pattern that is a menace to any successful weight-loss program.

Achieving success for anything doesn't happen overnight. It takes patience, motivation, commitment and practice. Too many people are attracted to quick-fix solutions for weight loss: 12 pounds in 12 days, 8-minute abs, 10-minute abs or miracle diets that recommend certain foods to eat or delete. Regardless of what these "magical" diets and exercise programs offer, the bottom line in weight control is this: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain; if you eat less than you burn, you lose.

A regimen that reduces your caloric intake too much will not give you a nutritionally balanced diet. Some fad diets recommend eating only protein, others are deficient in fiber, and some are liquid diets; none is very healthy.

Inconsistency is another roadblock to any successful weight-management program; starting and stopping will not cut it. The beauty of a walking program is that it is so easy to do, and if done consistently and combined with a sensible eating plan, your extra weight will slowly leave, not to return.

How to make walking a habit

ENJOY DOING IT: Make it fun. There is no set time you have to walk. Maybe you prefer early morning walks; somebody else may prefer walking in the evenings. It certainly isn't for everyone, but I know a few people who enjoy walking in the rain. You choose your preferred time and place, even set your own pace. A reader named Jackie e-mailed me and shared how she adds some fun and variety to her walks. She walks about 3 miles a day and has set a goal of walking five times a week. Several years ago she bought a Walkman, then began borrowing audio books from the library. She now walks and looks forward to catching up on her audio books.

SET GOALS FOR YOURSELF, BOTH LONG- AND SHORT-TERM: Set goals that you can measure so you can notice the progress. Simply saying "getting in shape" is too vague, and it cannot be measured. Instead, set realistic goals such as keeping weight logs or increasing your walking speed or distance. Some short-term goals help to keep you on track and lessen the enormity of the long-term goals. Maybe you could aim for losing a certain number of pounds before a special holiday; then use this as an incentive to keep going. If you fail to reach a certain goal, don't give up. Just consider it a temporary setback and get going again.

WALK DAILY: Walking is not a stressful activity that will exhaust you; rather, it is a healthy activity that you can do every day of your life, just like brushing your teeth. Good health habits should be part of your daily living. One of the main reasons that walking has the lowest dropout rate of all forms of exercise is that it is the least intimidating, requires the least equipment and is the most convenient exercise to do. Most of us walk someplace, somewhere, every day. Now all we are adding is a little more intensity for a longer period of time to create a "health walk." If you need words of encouragement, just remind yourself that walking will lower your blood pressure, reduce stress levels, improve your immune system and reduce blood sugars and body fat. To top it off, you will feel better about yourself and have more energy.

SCHEDULE YOUR WALKS ON A CALENDAR, JUST AS YOU WOULD A BUSINESS APPOINTMENT: When your walk is completed, record the time and the distance. This can be very motivating, You don't want to see three blank spaces indicating you have missed three whole days.

CHANGE THE PATTERN: You do not have to repeat the same walking pattern day after day. Besides becoming bored, you might find yourself on a "plateau" where your fitness level does not seem to be improving. If your long-term goal is weight loss, this can be frustrating. At this point, as you become more fit, you might want to make your walks more challenging to maximize the fitness benefits. Generally this can be obtained by gradually adding distance and reducing the time that you originally started with. When you reach the point where you can walk one mile in about 15 minutes with relative ease, you will be ready to move to the next step. You may be content to remain at this level, but if you want to increase your endurance, work toward increasing those 15-minute miles back to back -- four miles in an hour. Then shave some time off the distance; try walking those miles in 14 minutes. Walking one 14-minute mile is generally considered to be "brisk walking."

PRIORITIZE: Finding time for your "health walk" may seem difficult at first, but if you believe in yourself and know how important this is for your health, you can find a way to include it in your life. The only sure way you to make walking into a consistent activity is if you place it high on your priority list. When you reach the point where you take a quick miniwalk when time is tight, you know that health walking has become an important priority.

Walking posture

1. HEADS UP: Don't get in the habit of walking with your chin down; keep your chin up and look ahead.

2. CHEST OPEN: Relax your shoulders, keeping them a little back and downward; this will open up your chest.

3. ABDOMINALS NOT IN THE LEAD: Don't let the abdominals propel you forward; contract the abdominals (pull in toward the spine) and lift the rib cage. This will create a feeling of walking tall.

4. NATURAL ARMS Walk with arms in a natural position; if you are walking fast, bend arms at 90-degree angles. Move your arms close to your body; hands are level with your chest at the top of the swinging movement and down by the hipbones on the downward swing.

5. NO TO SWIVEL HIPS: You want your hip movement to be a relaxed natural forward-and-back motion. Avoid leaning forward from the hips; don't be a swivel walker where hips swing from side to side.

6. NIX ON CHEST THRUSTS, REAR PROTRUSIONS: If you lead with your chest and trail with your posterior, you set yourself up for aches and pains by putting pressure on the lower back. This type of a walk is generally caused by having weak abdominal and hip muscles, along with tight buttocks and lower back muscles.

7. HEEL FIRST, TOE NEXT. When stepping out, heel goes first. Roll through your heel to the ball of your foot, then to your toes, pushing off from the toes.

Where the heart is willing, it will find a thousand ways, but where it is unwilling, it will find a thousand excuses. -- Dayak proverb (Borneo)

-- Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write to her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Her e-mail address is slafitness@aol.com.

Exercise for lower back and abdominals

PELVIC TILTS focus on strengthening the lower back and abdominals. Lying on your back with knees bent, place your feet on the floor, hip-width apart Keeping the back against the floor, contract the abdominals (pulling abs in toward your back) and slightly lift your tailbone upward. The buttocks will lift a little off the floor, the back remains on the floor and the abdomen will feel pulled in. Hold for a count of five, then slowly lower to the original position. Repeat this exercise eight to 10 times.

BACK EXTENSION strengthens lower back. Lying on your stomach, bend your right arm, resting your forehead on the bent arm. Raise your left arm and right leg a few inches off the floor and stretch Out as much as you can. Pretend you are trying to reach out to touch something with your toes and your fingertips. Hold this position for a slow count of five; release leg and arm and repeat with the right arm and left leg. Exhale as you are lifting and inhale when you are lowering the arm and leg. Do not try to lift higher than a few inches. While this exercise, on a regular basis, can strengthen the lower back, I would not recommend doing this exercise if your back is bothering you.

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