By Edward Jackowski, Ph.D.
If I see one more article or watch another news special about how Americans are so overweight due to fast food and all the other foods now available to them, I think I’ll be sick to my stomach from the stupidity alone.
I grew up in the 1970’s, and if my memory serves me correctly, there were fast food outlets, diners, TV dinners, donuts, desserts, and the same food available to me then as there is now, yet I’m hardly an overweight sloth. In addition, we had television, video games, and computers, albeit not to the extent we do now. The difference was that if we did go to a McDonald’s or Burger King, we went maybe once or twice a month and mainly because our parents were either too lazy to prepare dinner that evening or just plain exhausted. The other important factor as to why we did not gain excess weight was because I had a mother who wouldn’t let me in the house before dark and had to do work chores and remain active. I couldn’t manipulate my mother like 9/10 kids today are capable of doing, but that’s more a function of bad parenting.
Nevertheless, according to the “experts,” Americans are overweight and unfit because of three main reasons: they only have fattening foods to choose from when they are hungry; technology is so advanced that they spend countless hours in front of hand devices, computers and television sets and, they are not active enough. Well, I’ve got some bad news for you, and then some more bad news. The bad news is that, yes, as a country, we are 20 pounds heavier today than 20 years ago. The other bad news is that, as a country, we are doing nothing to stop this epidemic aside from telling ourselves we need to make better eating choices and try and be more active.
In short, we are lazy; we overeat; we don’t prioritize what is truly important to us in our lives; and we don’t have a clue as to the steps involved in making proper fitness a consistent part of our daily and hectic lifestyles. Another thing I am tired of hearing about is our poor children and how we need to do something about their sorry state of condition and get them in better shape. How do we rationally expect our children possibly to be in shape when we, their parents are so out of shape?
There’s an expression that goes something like this: Before we can expect great things from others, we first need to expect greatness from ourselves. I can just see a youngster having a guest speaker one day at school, specifically a fitness advocate the school has asked to come speak to them about the importance of daily exercise. The child returns home that evening and says, “Mommy, Daddy, I need to start exercising and take better care of myself.” “Hey, son – pass me the potato chips”.
We have it backwards. Before we can dream about getting our children in shape, we need to get ourselves in shape. Just as we teach them manners, good study habits, and social skills and hobbies, we must teach fitness by example. If we (the parents) don’t exercise and don’t spend quality active time with our kids, how can we expect them to develop these skills and be able to carry them over into adulthood?
So, the next time you read or hear about how Americans need to change their eating habits, remember this: A great exercise program can make up for a poor diet, but a great diet can never make up for lack of exercise. There is nothing wrong with occasionally indulging in excessive or calorie-laden food or drink — we are all human — but instead of trying to starve yourself and/or feeling guilty about it, be smart and counter the indulgence with regular and proper exercise. By exercising properly and consistently, you will start to make small dietary changes and will be able to maintain this behavior. Starving yourself or “dieting” will not help develop the habit of exercising. Remember, as it takes time to develop bad habits, it also takes time to develop good ones as well. Just as we have earned the right to be good at our jobs, we need to earn the right to look and feel our best!
The reasons for starting and stopping (yo-yo exercising) a fitness program usually is due to two main reasons – 1) you are not seeing the results you had hoped for, and 2) you can’t maintain the same consistency (days in a week you work out) when you get busy at work.
If you are not seeing the results you had hoped for you might want to alter the type of exercises you are doing (meaning aerobic vs. anaerobic) and/or you need to increase the intensity at which you are exercising at. For example, you may be spending too much time lifting weights and not enough time doing long-sustained aerobic exercise or vice-a-versa and it’s important to combine both types of exercise techniques in order to have a fit and symmetrically-fit body. Equally important is to keep increasing the intensity at which you are exercising in order to keep burning calories and raising your metabolism. So, if a couple of months in you are still walking at 3.5 mph, you need to either increase the speed or add an incline to burn the same amount of calories that you were burning when you first started out exercising because you are now in better shape and better conditioned and thus will be burning less calories if you stay at that 3.5 mph.
The other common mistake that people make is that they start an exercise program when they have a break in time from their hectic lifestyle, not thinking ahead that they won’t be able to spend 2 hours at the gym when they get busy again and as a result, can only get to the gym on weekends…A good rule of thumb is to only pick an exercise regimen that you can maintain consistency today, next month or next year and have a back-up (abbreviated) fitness routine for days that you are busier than normal insuring that you will be more consistent and not try to play catch up on weekends. For weight loss, the number of days you exercise (frequency) is the most important element, so you are better off with 5 1 hour exercise bouts per week rather than 2 days of working out for 2 hours….
And yes, there are many conflicting stories and theories on this subject, so you are not alone out there as to what to do. First off, there are benefits to both performing cardio and weight lifting exercises, but when it comes to weight loss, cardio is definitely the most effective. But, it’s important to note that cardio (also known as aerobic) must be performed a minimum of 3-5 days per week for at least 20-40 minutes in order to be the most effective in fighting flab. There’s a reason why long distance runners and cyclists are so thin and it’s because they burn so many calories that they shed mass and keep off that mass by performing cardio on a regular basis. The key is to either increase frequency (days per week), duration (how long you are doing it for) and intensity (how hard you’re working) to keep increasing caloric expenditure and to also raise your metabolism – with intensity being the most important component. That being said, you still need to perform some toning exercises so that you keep the rest of your muscles fit and toned but the majority of a typical hour routine of exercise for weight loss should still comprise 60-70% of cardio for that hour being spent.
Jumping rope – Running – Stationary biking – Slow jogging – Fast walking – Elliptical or other cross-training devices & Rowing.
The key is to choose the cardio that puts the least amount of stress to your joints and agrees with your body both medically and orthopedically, so although you may want to and probably would more enjoy running versus biking, if you have achy knees or a bad back, biking is the prudent choice to maintain consistency and to insure that you can keep increasing intensity without exacerbating your physical constraints which will keep shedding weight off your body.
For Weight Loss, Which is More Important – Diet or Exercise?
The answer is that both are equally important in losing and maintaining weight loss as they work synergistically. However, food vs. exercise play different roles with weight loss and exercise is more important when it comes to helping you stay on track, especially when you have days when you’re not eating as well as you should or when you tend to overeat on certain days and/or occasions.
Our research data suggest that we tend to eat healthier and are much more conscious of what we put into our mouths on the days we exercise and it’s the days that we are not that active or working out that we have a habit of overeating and/or poor eating. That’s why it’s important for anyone looking to lose weight to perform at least 4-5 exercise bouts per week. Also, exercise is your saving grace for when you do tend to overeat because you merely need to exercise an extra half hour or so or add another day of exercise that week to counter that bad eating day to get right back into the game.
Contrary, if you do overeat and you’re not exercising, by eating less to lose that extra pound or more that you gained by overeating, you would need to cut your calories so much for the next couple of days that you would not have enough energy to perform a proper and intense exercise session and as a result, you would either skip your fitness routine or perform it with such low intensity you wouldn’t be able to burn off those extra calories even if you wanted to.
Now that summer is almost upon us, isn’t it about time to get out there and start moving around, being more active and try to be exercising with consistency? Or, are you still thinking about becoming more fit, toned and slimming down but haven’t been able to motivate yourself quite yet? Does this sound familiar? “I’ll do it later. There’s too much going on right now in my life.” “I promise to call you for lunch just as soon as things calm down around here.” “I’ll start my diet on Monday…” Does any of the above sound familiar? Why don’t we just get on and do things?
Or do these more positive, goal-oriented remarks sound more like you: “In two year’s time I’ll have enough money to buy a house in the country.” “I intend to meet a nice, sensitive woman or man who has a decent job, fit and who likes children.” If you ever wonder why some people “make it” and not others, look in the mirror for the answer.
There are two types of human beings: the talkers and the doers. What do all successful people—the doers—have in common? (By “successful”, I mean strong in mind, body and spirit, not merely in terms of material possessions) quite simply, they’re determined and they’re not afraid to take a calculated risk.
More on that later, first, the most common reasons for procrastination: we’re afraid of failure, so we delay things until the very last minute of the deadline; we don’t think it’s important enough to attend to now; we blow it off because we never really wanted to do it in the first place; it requires effort; we have better things to do than the issue at hand. Okay, admit it, the real issue is that we’re lazy and don’t value fitness as a major priority in our lives.
“When you give up your dreams you die.” Remember that. How many times do we get a brilliant flash of inspiration, and then leave it at that? When we discover later that someone else had the same idea, but took the time and effort to act on it, we tell our friends, “It’s no big deal: I thought about that years ago.” When we belittle someone else’s accomplishments in this way, we’re really lashing out in jealousy and anger, and rationalizing why we didn’t get it done ourselves. How come these people act on their ideas, when they’re no better off, nor had no more breaks than you? The answer is that they had a dream, a plan and a mission that they were determined to accomplish—and that nothing was going to stop them—nothing!
The point is that if we want things in life either tangible or intangible, we must realize that there are no short cuts in life—and that there’s nothing wrong with taking the long, hard route. Taking the hard route soon becomes habit if you’re self-disciplined; just like taking the short cut once was. Disciplining yourself to exercise will help you in every facet of your life; your professional, personal and family life.
But more importantly, that discipline carries over in helping you achieve all of your dreams. The more you include regular, proper exercise into your lifestyle, the more apt you are to achieve any of your goals.
Here’s a simple, practical solution to procrastination. First, make a list of items that must be accomplished daily and set a firm deadline. Make three sets of index cards labeled: Personal, Professional and what I call the Vision Card—which lists personal and professional goals which won’t detract from our daily chores. Next, write down what must be done in order of priority, and have a plan in mind to accomplish them. For example: Personal – Start an exercise program and lose weight; Professional – Call or drop a note to your clients and ask if there’s anything you can do for them today. (You got the account three weeks ago, they’ve paid, but a phone call shows you thought of them, and it gave them the positive reinforcement they need); Vision – Call Ted and arrange to have lunch to discuss crazy idea about wallpaper that glows in the dark. Now, attack each item on your list, do it, and check it off. Constantly replenish the lost with new ideas and goals as you complete old ones. If the list ends, it means you’re procrastinating and—even worse—not growing personally or professionally.
You’ll look back at your life years later and wonder why Ted made it and you didn’t. Look within yourself to find the strength to make a positive change in the way you perceive yourself. Remember: “The more you want to accomplish something, the less it will seem like work.” And equally important, as summer is drawing closer and closer to us, you control your destiny and can finally feel confident and comfortable wearing whatever you choose to wear from a bathing suit to a pair of gym shorts without a shirt – imagine that!
Edward Jackowski, Ph.D. is a Lifestyle/Fitness Expert and the author of seven books and has written for a myriad of publications including; NY Daily News., AARP, WebMD, ediets.com and weight watchers.com. His firm, Exude Fitness is America’s premier motivational & one-to-one exercise company based in NYC and he and his firm develop fitness prescriptions worldwide for consumers through his highly successful program –Exude Global Fitness.