How to Maintain Your Exercise Goals

HealthGal Health Guide
  • If you’ve been a chronic dieter, struggled with weight issues, or tried to improve your overall health again and again only to fail, then you have to know that almost every health professional would recommend exercise as part of the formula.  And yet, many people seem to hate exercise.  What gives? 


    Maybe the type of exercise you try is just not a good fit for your goals or personality.  Maybe the payoff from exercise was not the model’s body you were hoping for, so you abandoned it completely.  Maybe you only know about walking, jogging or running and they all seem too tough, too boring, too “you fill in the blank.”  Maybe you got injured during a workout and so you blame exercise, and don’t want to try again. Maybe you don’t like to sweat.  Maybe you think you will sustain harm if you exercise, because you are so overweight.  Maybe you don’t know the first thing about exercise, and refuse to hire a professional to help you, or you can’t afford one.  Or maybe you feel daunted because even the exercise gurus can’t seem to agree on what formula of exercise is best. 

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    Whatever your excuse…..get over it.  And let’s find a formula that can work for you.


    Just move more

    All the experts, including myself, agree that simply adding more physical movement to your day will help you to burn more calories, keep your metabolic rate engaged and optimal, and provide health benefits.  That means walking to work, even part of the way.  It means climbing stairs when possible.  It means getting up from your work desk to walk around and stretch and even do some squats.  It means fitting in some movement during your lunch break or when you take a coffee break. 


    Sitting still for too many hours allows blood to pool in your legs, setting up vulnerable individuals (with circulatory issues) to swelling of the lower extremities and even raising the risk of a venous thrombosis.  It can also lead to a lower metabolic rate, because of a prolonged sedentary experience.  You are not burning a whole lot of calories during the day if you are sitting down for most of the day.  And yet, you are eating plenty of calories.  That is not a good recipe for weight loss or optimal health. 


    What’s the right exercise formula?


    There’s a saying in the dieting world that the “right diet for you is the one YOU will stick with long term.”  So even if Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig is working for your friends, it may not be a good match for you.  Similarly, you may need to realize that the exercise program working for your friend, or the ones you see on TV promising amazing results, may not be appropriate for your goal or be sustainable. 


    What you do need to acknowledge is that you probably have to commit to more exercise than you’d like.  Yes, 30 minutes of exercise three times a week helps to confer basic health benefits, but it will take a lot more than that to help you to burn calories, build muscle mass and achieve significant weight and health goals.  And yes, a more consistent and vigorous exercise effort will also allow you to eat a bit more while still shedding weight. 


    A good formula for an exercise program is 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise activities that raise your heart rate for an extended period of time, like vigorous walking, jogging, running, swimming or using aerobic gym equipment like a stationary bike or elliptical machine, four to six days a week (obviously building up to this formula over weeks or months), which should include working out with free weights or weight machines two to three days a week.  That may sound like an impossible task, but consider that if we're awake for 14 to 16 hours a day, it's a reasonable fraction of your day's activities.  It does require planning and possibly splitting up your exercise on certain days.  

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    Luckily, you can add a social aspect to these activities by taking a spinning or kickboxing class for aerobic activity, and taking a class that emphasizes lifting weights, in lieu of working out by yourself. You can also buddy up and work out with a friend or group of friends - which might make the affordability of a trainer, even part time, more feasible.  You can now subscribe to online classes or simply follow a routine that’s offered by an online magazine.   There are now also exclusive fitness TV channels.  You can also multi-task while exercising, catching up on the news, watching an online conference, or listening to books on tape while exercising.


    Stop wallowing in excuses.  Even a morbidly obese person, or someone with painful arthritic knees can get into a pool and walk one step at a time, or attempt some steps outdoors and slowly build up to a full walking routine.  It takes guts, commitment and realizing that your life is worth it.  If you do finally begin an exercise program, remember that you still need to engage in some movement throughout the day.  We were meant to be active creatures and our weight and energy balance and health, demand it.


    How does exercise impact my weight?


    Apparently, most of our readers want to know “how much should I weigh?” That depends somewhat on your height and the BMI chart, as well as recommendations for waist size and how much muscle mass you will ultimately build, since muscle weighs more than fat. 


    We all come in different shapes and sizes, so there is some flexibility or range in achieving a healthy weight.  The key is to avoid setting an unreasonable goal that will be impossible to maintain, since yo-yo dieting is not healthy, and can turn into life-long torture.  When it comes to weight loss, your diet is probably 80% of the formula, and exercise comprises about 20% of the formula. 


    For someone struggling to stay on a precise calorie count, exercise might be the difference between an extra serving of healthy grains, or a slightly larger snack of protein and fat (think nuts).  And building more muscle mass over time can translate into a maintenance diet (once you hit your weight goal) that is a bit higher in calories.


    Healthy carbohydrates (low glycemic, whole grain, high fiber) help to restore glycogen levels, which provide the fuel for your workouts, and lean protein supports muscle growth - which is why your diet should include these food groups.  Just remember that it is so easy to justify over-eating when you are exercising, so beware the pitfalls of that kind of thinking and recognize the finite amount of calories you need.


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    A final message on exercise


    Some myths associated with weight training, like “I will bulk up if I work out with weights,” or with cycling, like “my legs will become huge if I regualry spin” are rarely substantiated in practice.  Women who train with weights for the most part get leaner and more “cut,” and can frankly eat more food.  Some of the leanest people I know cycle regularly.  


    And if your concern is "how much should I weigh," then your focus should be on creating a lean, strong body that will perform like a machine which uses fuel (food) effciently.  Exercise will help you to achieve that goal.  Recently a client asked me, “How do I get fierce arms like yours?”  I shared with her that I've been exercising since my late teens (I am a boomer now) regularly, and that I work out with heavy weights two to three times a week.  I can’t tell you how incredible it was to hear her use that word, fierce!  I often joke that I work out to “keep my husband in line.”  I actually do it because it has become an ingrained habit with an incredible payoff.  Make it your habit!


     Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience.  Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts.  Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch?  Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at


Published On: January 19, 2014