What better way to start a new millennium than with New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and improve physical fitness?
Traditionally fitness centers see a surge of new customers at the first of the year as people resolve to make fitness a priority. The problem is that many people end up shooting themselves in the foot by trying to do too much, too soon. As a result, by the time the end of January rolls around those New Year’s resolutions have dropped by the wayside.
Kim Rutland, director of the Wesley Institute for Wellness and Sports Medicine in Hattiesburg, said people have the best chance of sticking with an exercise program when they gradually institute small changes.
“Look at why your resolutions failed last year,” Rutland said. “Maybe you put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you realistically don’t have time to exercise five times a week. The biggest thing I can tell people is to start slowly. If you gradually institute small changes, you are more likely to stick with the program for three months, six months and the rest of the year.”
Rutland said people often are disappointed when they don’t see instant changes. Instead of expecting to drop a pant size in a week, she suggests not expecting to see any major weight changes for the first six weeks.
“The scale is always our barometer,” Rutland said. “If you don’t lose immediately, you may feel you have failed. But there are other benefits besides losing weight such as feeling better, better muscle tone and increased endurance.”
Hank Boerner, director of the North Mississippi Medical Center Wellness Center in Tupelo, said setting realistic goals and choosing exercise that you enjoy are two ways to increase the odds of success with an exercise and diet program.
“We try real hard to encourage individuals not to make a huge commitment such as saying, ‘I’m going to come in five days a week and exercise,’ or ‘I’m going to lose 30 pounds by the end of January’,” Boerner says “We try to get them to make more realistic goals that they can accomplish and stick with throughout the year.”
A common mistake is overdoing it by exercising too much the first day. The result is so much soreness the next day that it is easy to give up. Boerner recommends taking it slow, committing to something realistic, like exercising three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes along with taking a walk after dinner two or three times a week.
“That way you stay with the activity, and it becomes something that is a part of your life, like brushing your teeth or washing your hair,” Boerner said. “My best advice is to make your goals realistic, something you can stick with. And, most of all, make it something that you can enjoy. There is no sense in being on a running program if you don’t like to run. Do you like to walk? Garden? Swim? Bicycle? Try something you enjoy doing.”
Exercise can also help with stress management and countering depression. Boerner said in recent years they have seen a big increase in the numbers of people who take yoga and group exercise classes that provide socialization as well as physical exercise.
“A lot of people think of wellness as just physical activity,” Boerner said. “But it is mental, physical and spiritual. When you exercise you feel better, and have a healthier outlook on life. Some insurance companies are now covering yoga classes for people who need stress management and relaxation.”
The latest studies recommend that people get some form of moderate activity on a daily basis. That can include anything from raking leaves to housework. Boerner believes it is also a good idea to have a structured exercise program twice or three times a week that includes strength training that puts muscles under stress. That can help prevent injuries, add to general feelings of health and well being, and prevent osteoporosis, heart disease and other illnesses.
Scot Long, MSS, an exercise physiologist at the Baptist Healthplex at Mississippi College in Clinton, agrees more emphasis should be placed on strength training.
“Aerobic exercise is important because it burns body fat, strengthens the heart and relieves mental and physical stress,” Long said. “The biggest component most people neglect today is strength training.”
Long sees good physical conditioning as a stool with three legs. One leg is good nutrition, one is aerobic exercise and the third is anaerobic exercise. It takes all three components to achieve the highest degree of health.
“If you aren’t eating properly, then exercise is not nearly as effective,” Long said. “People think they can eat anything they want, walk a mile and be fine. That’s not true. You have to eat well nine times out of 10. Nutrition is so important. Unless you are eating well, doing aerobic exercise and strength training, you won’t really achieve fitness goals.”
Long reads obituary columns to his students in the classroom, pointing out that people even in their 30s are dying from heart disease.
“My dad is a doctor, and twice a week he pulls the sheet over someone who looks good outside, but has clogged arteries inside,” Long said. “It happens all the time. Just because you are young and you look good on the outside doesn’t mean that the french fries, hamburgers, butter and Coke isn’t making arteries clogged inside.”
It takes commitment and consistency to achieve good fitness. Long estimates it takes exercising an average of three to four times a week for at least two months before you see cosmetic changes or a significant strengthening of the body.
“Exercise will work,” he said. “You will see results. You will feel better, be stronger and have better aerobic capacity. It will all change for the better, but you have to give it time. If you start in January, give yourself until the first week of March before you see anything.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.