Think sweating it out at the gym today will help you ditch that giant meal you ate last night? I hate to break it to you, but it's not that simple. Although you can burn a boatload of calories while working out, your body won't be in it's best condition unless you also focus on what you're putting in it. Even if you're an aerobics instructor, eating saturated fats and trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease, something exercise alone cannot defeat. Moreover, if you eat more calories than you burn up, you won't lose weight, either.
Exercise is the tool that can help you strengthen your heart and lungs, burn some unwanted calories, and feel and look your best. People who exercise regularly have more energy and may even be better able to deal with whatever life throws at them. Too many people, however, spend more time on excuses than they do actually exercising. The biggest defense for not exercising regularly is not being able to find the time to make it happen.
But unless you're a fitness instructor, exercise doesn't have to take up your whole day. Research suggests that even short bursts of exercise are beneficial. A recent New York Times article underscored the importance of intense exercise, the kind that makes you feel like you can practically hear your muscles cry with every squat. The story highlighted that when exercise is intense, it doesn't have to be lengthy.
So do you really need to feel intense pain to experience great gain? In a recent interview with FOX News on whether physical activity needs to be extreme to be beneficial, I weighed in with a more realistic approach. I like success, and if someone is going to maintain an activity that will be sustained on a regular basis, it needs to be something that one will look forward to and actually perform.
Here are just a few of the ways you can squeeze a little more physical activity into your schedule:
• Treat exercise as a priority in your day. Don't procrastinate and don't wait until you get to the gym – create opportunities throughout the course of your day, even when you're reaching for items on the top shelf of your cabinet, bending down to tie your shoes or walking up and down the stairs in your home or apartment building.
[Read: 7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise.]
• If you don't work on the ground floor of your building, take the stairs to your office instead of using the elevator. You'll feel like you already put in some effort before your workday even begins.
• Take a leisurely walk on date night instead of sitting down to see a movie. You'll have more energy, actually get to catch up with your partner and feel good that you avoided that large popcorn and Coke at the theater – or the late-night snacks on your couch.
• Try doing 10-minute workouts three times a day if you can't make the time to do 30 minutes at once. You can walk around the block or walk up and down the stairs – anything to get your heart rate going.
• Interval training is a great way to get an amazing workout in a short period of time. You can alternate between high-power and lower-power exercise. For example, you can jog on the treadmill for three minutes, and then run as fast as you can for one minute. If you repeat this five times, you'll end up with an exciting 20-minute workout.
The bottom line is that you don't have to train so hard that it makes you feel like throwing up. (I actually know of a gym that keeps pails around, just for that reason.) Most importantly, you need to be consistent about physical activity, and try to do something each and every day, no matter how small it seems. There's no excuse for not partaking in some of the above suggestions – I strongly recommend you grab your partner, your kids and your dog to join you. Everyone feels better when they feel fit.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.