The holidays have given us Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but no provision for something like Workout Weekdays. Maybe they should. Being physically active this time of year can help people maintain their weight or even lose a pound or two, one study showed. Plus, it can relieve stress and improve health.
Consider the benefits: Regular physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of early death, help control weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some types of cancer and a host of other conditions. It lowers the risk of cognitive decline and hip fractures.
And recent research suggests that exercise may be as effective as medication in preventing early death in people who've had heart attacks or strokes.
By Jan. 1, many people will resolve to get in better shape, but it's not too soon to start right now. USA TODAY asked Boston-area sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, author of the best-selling Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, now in a new fifth edition, to talk about the benefits of exercise.
Q: What are the advantages of exercising during the holidays?
A: Exercise does take some time from your busy day, but the benefits include using that time to think about what gifts to give to whom, to plan your to-do list, to connect with friends for holiday walks and runs, to reflect on hopes and fears and to give yourself the gift of health. I multitask when I exercise by planning my day as I bike to work or walk or run with my dog. Exercise disconnects me from e-mails, phones and screens and allows much needed "thinking time."
Q: Many people start exercising at the first of the year, but lots of folks don't stick with it. Why?
A; People will maintain an exercise program if it offers benefits. So you'd better embark upon an exercise program that is not only realistic for you but nourishes your soul. For example, if you are a night owl who plans to force yourself to wake up early and drive to the gym (after you've scraped the frost off the windshield), think again. The chances are good that staying in bed offers more benefits than venturing into the cold.
But if you and your partner promise to go dancing once a week with some friends, you'll likely have more fun - and stick to the program. The 'e' in exercise needs to stand for enjoyment - not excruciating.
Q: Walking is the most popular exercise. How can people get more out of their walking routine?
A: Walking works. Put some pep in your step, find a buddy and enjoy a brisk walk 'n' talk. Plan it into a lunch hour, or find some other way to give purpose and meaning to the walk. That is walk the dog, walk to the post office, walk alongside your child who is slowly riding a bike, have a walking meeting while on your cellphone.
Q: Why is weight training important?
A: Lifting weights - be it dumbbells or your body weight (think push-ups, sit-ups, planks) and doing any exercise that pushes your muscles to the limit - stimulates muscles to grow stronger. Strong muscles tug on tendons and bones, making them stronger. Strong muscles and bones mean fewer falls and broken bones.
When planning your weekly program, keep this in mind: Lifting once a week maintains muscle mass; twice a week builds muscles and three times a week puts you on the path toward the Olympics. Lifting any type of weight is better than lifting no weights. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, a bag of sugar 5 pounds. So be creative.
Q: What would you suggest for people who can't exercise at their workplace, are too tired to exercise when they get home from work, and find it hard to squeeze in a workout before they go to work?
A: Finding time to exercise can be a challenge, but where there is a will, there is a way: Ride your bike to work, if it's safe. Get off the bus a few stops early and walk for 15 minutes on your way home from the office. Create a treadmill desk or a deskercycle.
We are all so busy there is never time to do anything, so just set the alarm on your cellphone, stop what you are doing when the alarm signals it's time to exercise, and just do it.
Exercise is an investment in good health. We all need to move our bodies for health reasons. Take note: You will find plenty of time to be sick if you cannot find time to stay healthy.
Q: What are the biggest problems with most people's diets, especially when it comes to staying healthy and exercising at their peak?
A: The biggest problem I see among my clients is under-eating (dieting or skimping) at breakfast and lunch, only to overindulge ("blow their diet") at night. I encourage my clients to fuel by day and lose weight at night (when sleeping) rather than diet by day only to blow it by night. Experiment with front-loading your calories and observe the benefits: more energy, less hunger, more productivity, fewer snack attacks, feel better. You'll be better able to eat a smaller dinner and create the calorie deficit at night. Then you can lose weight when sleeping instead of during the busy part of the day.
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