Sheila Sullivan, our guest contributor this month, shares her secrets for an exercise plan that works for her. Use her template for create your own plan.
Invariably when someone wants to get in shape they seek advice and suggestions from friends, experts, or the Internet. Maybe that is how you ended up here, reading this. So, how do you decide what works for you?
The absolute best exercise, bar none!
Experts agree that the best Exercise is one that you will DO, and do regularly. Love to walk? Lace up your shoes, and get out there. Adore being in the water? Take up swimming. Competitive sports are more your thing? Join a league. There are many out there, from basketball, to softball, tennis, swimming, soccer, flag football, cycling, and more. Forcing yourself to participate in activities that do not excite or at least interest you will only lead to excuses and an early goodbye to your New Year’s resolution.
Don’t burn out.
Many times when we start something, we go gun-ho at the beginning and sometimes that leads to an injury as we try to do more than we are physically ready for, or get so sore and achy we decide the couch potato life is less painful. With that in mind, start slow and steady. Don’t be that weekend warrior who burns out after an overly ambitious Workout only to sit on the couch the next three months due to injury.
Find something practical…
…and do it at least three times a week. Going to the gym/exercising every day is admirable, but not realistic for the majority of us. We are told that more is better, and that if we can’t do an hour of the newest trendy workout each day, we are failures. This is simply not true. Unless your job is professional athlete or fitness model, it’s going to be next to impossible to dedicate the time, effort, and planning that those careers require. We can’t micromanage our Food intake at every meal, precisely time our workouts for optimum effect, or have personal trainers standing over us to coach us through every exercise. Most of us have busy lives and just want to stay healthy and fit with a reasonable amount of time and effort. Reading the workout schedules of professional bodybuilders is not always encouraging – it typically tends to have the opposite effect. Have you ever gotten snarky and tossed the magazine aside knowing that you will never, ever be able to duplicate their suggestions (and quite honestly really wouldn’t want to)? You’re not alone.
You like to eat? No problem, just be sure to exercise for balance. Sure, we could probably be very thin if we subsisted on wheat germ and carrot sticks, but is that how you want to live? Being strong and healthy even if you will never be a size two, is more important, as is the freedom to go out for amazing meals with friends for special events and not be locked into a “diet” so restrictive you can’t enjoy your favorite foods. Does that mean you eat whatever you want, whenever you want? Well . . . within reason. Moderation is key in all things, be it food, drink, and yes, even exercise.
We all know people who are slaves to their workout schedule, who agonize over every missed workout and every bite of food that passes their lips. That kind of stress is counter-productive and seldom makes those people happy. Instead it leads to unrealistic expectations and disillusionment when we “fail” at it. The mentality of, “Oh, I missed my workout last night. Guess I might as well down this entire carton of ice cream. I’m such a failure, what’s the point?” is not what we’re going for here. Things do not always have to be all-or nothing. You missed a workout? Don’t quit or give up, tomorrow is another day to make better decisions. You ate some of the cookies your co-worker brought in for a birthday? Don’t beat yourself up – enjoy the treat and go for a longer walk when you get home. Every day is a new chance to pick yourself up and keep going. We women especially tend to be far harder on ourselves than necessary and set ourselves up with such unrealistic expectations that it’s no wonder we feel like we can never measure up.
Get less obsessed with the scale and more interested in how you FEEL.
Can you walk up a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing? Can you carry groceries to your car without your back aching? Can you play with your kids or grandkids without running out of steam in five minutes? These are real-world goals and milestones – your dress size is not! Confidence is not found in a dress size, it comes from within, and when you’re healthy and you know it, your face will surely show it, and others will notice.
A sample template.
Number 1. I eat a balanced diet in moderation, aiming for plenty of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, skim milk and fat free yogurt. Feel free to splurge on other foods several times a week as long as the majority of your meals are healthy. No food groups are banned, nothing is “never” allowed. It’s all about balance. Food and exercise choices have to be sustainable.
Number 2. Walk – whenever possible, wherever convenient. Take the stairs, park farther away. Work in the city where you have to walk, or wear tennis shoes to and from work so that you can sneak in walks and run errands without worrying about heels.
Number 3. Lift some weights. Weight lifting has many, many benefits, but for getting healthy it comes down to this: Muscles burn calories and make your body look better. Simple as that.
Eating reasonably, doing 2-3 days of weight lifting on non-consecutive days each week, and walking for 30 minutes on the other days, will help you maintain a healthy weight and even avoid many of the aches and pains that plague so many.
Your weight lifting routine can be simple and still cover the major muscle groups once per week. Free weights recruit more core muscles and are more portable and less expensive than machines. Warm up with a set of each exercise and then do 4 sets of 8 repetitions, or as many repetitions as you can do with good form. Once you can do 4 sets of 8 at a given weight, increase the weight slightly and start again trying to do 4 sets of 8 repetitions. This makes the workout quick, easy to keep track of, and flexible if you’re having an off day or not feeling well. Just pick up where you were when you left off if you have to skip a session.
Keep a spiral notebook and pen handy. Jot down how many reps you do so you know when to up the weight. Start with a weight that you can lift comfortably 8 times. There are no bonus points for straining yourself with crazy heavy weights. The goal is to exercise REGULARLY, not to hurt yourself.
Week 1: 8 6 5 3
Week 2: 8 7 6 4
Week 3: 8 8 7 6
Week 4: 8 8 8 7
Week 5: 8 8 8 8
Yay! You’ve done a complete set with 8 reps each set. You can now increase the weight a little next week and start the cycle again.
Don’t work the same body part two days in a row. Mix up the exercises you do so you don’t get bored. And, it is equally as important that your body doesn’t get into a rut because it’s not challenged. Too many people lift the same weight, the same number of reps, for months and months and months and wonder why they aren’t seeing improvement. Push yourself a little! So what if you can only do two reps today. Next time you might do four. Muscles don’t grow without use. Instructions and demos of various exercises are available everywhere. Experiment!
Monday: Walk, jog, bike or swim for at least 30 minutes. You want to get your heart rate up.
Tuesday. Chest press, triceps, crunches.
Wednesday: Monday: Walk, jog, bike or swim for at least 30 minutes.
Thursday: Bicep curls, squats, lunges.
Friday: Monday: Walk, jog, bike or swim for at least 30 minutes.
Sunday: Shoulder presses, side/front raises, lat pull downs.
Not very flashy, certainly not trendy, but it is inexpensive, effective, and sustainable. Living healthy is a lifestyle, not just a New Year’s resolution, and though most of us will never be a model, or even look like one, we can hopefully remain active and mobile well into our later years.
Isn’t that really the goal, to be in decent enough shape to enjoy life?
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