It’s that time of year where people reflect over the past year and for many you think about areas where you can improve in various aspects of your life. For many folks, improving their health and fitness is considered and more so the desire to lose weight and look like you did a few years back is identified as a priority. The internet and other aspects of the information age have made the availability of information easier than ever before. The amount of information available to any individual with a computer and an internet connection is impressive, and this vast amount of information results in conflicting and confusing advice.
Do you exercise in the morning or after work? Should you eat before you work out or not? Are post-workout carbohydrates important for muscle growth or should I focus on protein? Should I do cardio before or after weights? Do I even need extra protein? Fish oil or not? Vitamins…yes or no?
These types of questions are everywhere and many times the amount of information and opinion put forth on them is too much. At the end of the day, improving your health and fitness is straight-forward and most people already know enough to accomplish a great majority of their goals. For many folks in our society, the first step is to get moving. Stopping talking about what you are going to do and just start doing something. Sure, you can sit down and argue for or against any one of a large number of exercise approaches as to which one is best, but the person who does something consistently on a weekly basis will see improvements in their health and fitness. This is almost a guarantee. Besides, any person who is actually consistently running, cycling, lifting or completing group fitness and working hard at it is likely more fit than most people. In fact, a number of the largest scientific studies indicate that exercise in the form of walking in minimum doses of 20 – 30 minutes per session can improve a wide number of health aspects. This data also shows that if the duration is increased to 30, 40 or 60 minutes, the health benefits typically increase.
As you reflect on the past year and look forward to 2016, seek to find ways each week to improve how much physical activity you get. And be consistent. Yes, walking for just 20 minutes with your dog for 3-4 times per week, EVERY WEEK will bolster your body against disease. Will it put you on the cover of a fitness magazine? No, it won’t! But it will help to keep you off the path where you will lose some of your fitness, gaining weight and developing a propensity to have diabetes and heart disease. Will your body be healthier three months after doing this than before? Studies indicate the answer to this question is yes.
Understand the message here. The message is not to say that you will be free of disease and all of your desires will come true by simply walking 20 minutes per day. This is not an infomercial for “6 minutes Abs”. The message is simply stating that doing something small and doing it consistently has been shown to be a powerful antagonist to developing a number of aspects of disease. Will it help you to lose weight? Maybe, but probably not, particularly if you are like most people and expect to lose the same amount of weight in 8 weeks that it took you to gain in 5 years. Certainly, if you combine this very modest amount of exercise with a diet that contains too much fat and too many calories (most of us do and don’t realize it), weight loss becomes less (much less) likely. But it’s a start and that’s all this message is encouraging you to do, to start.
Progressing to a point where weight loss becomes more likely will require you to exercise for longer periods of time and also at a greater intensity of exercise that may require you to walk and jog. Changes in your diet will also likely be needed, but again consistency needs to be everyone’s focus. Note that the above research didn’t say anything about whether you should swim, walk on a treadmill, run outside, use free weights, perform group fitness or complete bodyweight exercises. So until you can look back on your exercise log and you have consistently exercised IN ANY KIND OF FASHION several days per week for the last three months or so, don’t get caught up with worrying about if what you are doing works.
Sure, the crazy fit girl who runs on the treadmill for 45 minutes a day, five days per week, likely has a rocking body but “Rome wasn’t built overnight”. It starts by doing something. Yes, results will be more likely to occur if you exercise for longer periods of time, but don’t think you’ll go from doing nothing to 45 minutes, five days per week. Starting a program is both a physical and psychological adjustment and start small, but be tough and strong and stick with your plan and once you’re out there, work as hard as you can.
For those of you reading who are thinking this article is “too soft” or “warm and fuzzy”, look around. The people in our world are getting bigger and less healthy and medical care is not cheap. If you are regularly following a program, that’s awesome and keep it up. Your body and mind will be better for it. This article is directed towards the people that don’t think they can make improvements by starting small and think instead they have no chance of losing the weight they desire to lose. It starts today and everyone can do. Focus on positive things and get out there!
This post was written by Chad Kerksick, an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. Dr. Kerksick is a nerd for exercise physiology and particularly enjoys discussing strategies to lose fat and enhance performance through diet, supplementation and exercise.