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Tired of Working Out?

If your physical fitness routine has become redundant, change it up! These seven suggestions can help you get energized and excited to work out – give them a try.

A healthful diet is not the only factor when it comes to achieving a healthy weight - physical activity plays an important role as well. While it may seem challenging to find time to work out, the long- and short-term health benefits make it a necessary aspect of achieving optimum health and a healthy weight. These seven simple tips can help get you moving and your calories burning! 

1. Join a gym. Make an appointment with a trainer on staff - he or she can help design a plan for your goals, level of fitness, health concerns or time constraints. Then go! (If you think a gym membership is beyond your budget, many health-care plans now offer reimbursements if you visit the gym a certain number of times per month. Contact your provider for more information.)

2. Get prepared. Wear the proper footwear, removable layers or light clothing; start slow and work your way up; and avoid dehydration by drinking more water than you think you need.

3. Try a new workout. The number of fitness classes is practically limitless these days. From indoor cycling to outdoor boot camps, yoga in the park or barre classes that emphasize classic ballet moves, the options abound. An added bonus: new classes can keep your mind and body equally challenged. Consider joining a class, watching videos online or via DVD, or downloading any number of free apps that provide a variety of fitness experiences.

4. Partner up. It's more fun if you don't go it alone when it comes to exercise, and the right partner can keep you inspired. Start by enlisting a friend for a weekly walk, and build from there.

5. Try yoga. It is an effective and enjoyable way to burn calories, increase muscle mass (which in turn burns more calories) and enhance stretching, which is important for keeping joints limber and preventing injury. Classes likely abound in your area, or start with a DVD or online video if a class seems intimidating. 

6. Start dancing! Fast-tempo dancing is not only fun (especially when you get some friends to join you) but can burn 400 to 500 calories per hour.

7. Get practical. If weightlifting or logging miles on a treadmill seem too uninspiring, remember that mowing the lawn, rototilling a garden, building a backyard shed or some other physical, productive task provides a good workout as well.

Outdoor Workout, Better Results

Engaging in outdoor exercise may be an effective strategy for midlife women who want to become more active - a small Canadian study found that women who did outdoor workouts attended more sessions than those who exercised indoors and exhibited greater tranquility afterward. Sticking to the program wasn't the only benefit - the researchers at the University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke in Quebec reported that women who exercised outdoors showed fewer depressive symptoms than the indoor group. They also tended to become more active in their daily lives, while those who exercised indoors didn't change their activity levels during the three-month course of the study. All 23 women participating in the study were in their 50s or 60s and were sedentary prior to joining the study. The researchers assigned the women at random to outdoor or indoor exercise groups. Both groups met three times per week for sessions that included aerobic exercise and strength training. Before and after their workouts, the women were asked about their moods and how tiring they found the workouts. The researchers reported that on average, the women who exercised outdoors had a greater sense of tranquility after their sessions than did the women who exercised indoors. All told, the outdoor exercise participants attended 97 percent of the 36 sessions compared to 91 percent attendance in the indoor group.

My take? I have always found outdoor exercise to be much more enjoyable than indoor workouts. Nature provides better visual stimulation - particularly when you're exercising in pleasant surroundings, such as in a park or the countryside. You also get the benefit of fresh air and sunshine, which always makes me feel more cheerful and energetic. In addition to physical benefits, just spending time in nature itself has a measurable positive influence on health. Time outdoors can lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that rises when we're under stress. It can also lower blood pressure and pulse rate and trigger a dramatic increase in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, important components of our immune defenses against infection and cancer.

How Hard Are You Really Working Out?

A new Canadian study suggests that most adults are clueless about the intensity of their exercise. Researchers from Toronto’s York University recruited 129 inactive Canadians ages 18 to 64 to see what they know about strenuous workouts. Canadian guidelines specify that during moderate exercise your pulse rate should rise to between 64 to 76 percent of your maximum heart rate, and for vigorous exercise between 77 and 90 percent. U.S. guidelines say you should be able to "talk but not sing" during moderate exercise, and not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath during vigorous exercise.

Once they positioned their volunteers on treadmills, the Canadian researchers found that few were able to achieve and maintain a heart rate of 65 percent of their maximum during what they believed was moderate exercise, and even fewer were able to maintain a heart rate of 75 percent of maximum when they believed they were exercising vigorously. The researchers found that during every test, participants overestimated the intensity of their exercise.

To determine whether you’re meeting your intensity goals, you should take your pulse frequently during exercise, and if it remains below 65 percent of your maximum heart rate, step it up! The researchers also noted that the most accurate way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to subtract 64 percent of your age from 211.

My take? I don’t think it is necessary to calculate your target heart rate and take your pulse frequently during aerobic exercise to reap its benefits. I feel such monitoring can make workouts less enjoyable. If exercise is not fun, or if you do not see benefits from it fairly quickly, your motivation to continue may erode. If a period of aerobic exercise does not leave you feeling that you have labored, with your heart beating faster and your breathing stimulated, you likely have not performed it vigorously enough. If it leaves you collapsed on the ground painfully gasping for breath, you've probably overdone it. I think most people can figure out the right level of intensity without taking their pulse, consulting tables and charts, and worrying about whether they are in the target heart rate zone.

Jennifer L. Kuk, “Individuals Underestimate Moderate and Vigorous Intensity Physical Activity,” PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097927

Do You Warm Up and Cool Down When You Exercise? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed whether a cool down is necessary and beneficial after a workout: Cooling Down After Exercise? Check out the article and let us know whether you warm up or cool down, or both, while exercising.

7 Guidelines for Healthy Aerobic Exercise

Want to get more aerobic exercise but are worried about overdoing it? Whether you are an experienced athlete or a newbie, simple guidelines can make your aerobic routine safe and effective.

  1. Always warm up before you get into the full swing of aerobic activity. The best warm-up is a slowed-down version of the activity you are about to perform. For example, walk, run, or cycle in slow motion. You will see many people stretching as a warm-up, but this does not prepare muscles for aerobic exercise as well as slow movement does.
  2. Give yourself a few minutes of cool-down at the end of the activity. Repeat the same movements in slow motion. This post-workout period is also the best time to stretch the muscles if you desire.
  3. If you have never exercised, get a medical checkup before you start an exercise program. If you have a history of heart trouble or high blood pressure or a strong family history of such problems, a cardiac stress test may be in order.
  4. Pay attention to your body! Discontinue exercise if you develop unusual aches or pains.
  5. Stop exercising immediately if you develop dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, chest pains, or difficulty breathing. Get a medical checkup promptly.
  6. Your heart rate and breathing should return to normal within five to 10 minutes after the end of aerobic exercise. If they do not, get a medical checkup.
  7. Do not exercise if you are sick. Wait until you feel better, then resume gradually. Don't worry about losing fitness; it will come back quickly enough. Strenuous exercise at the onset of illness can cause you to be sicker longer.

5 Ways To Get More Aerobic Exercise

If you have made aerobic exercise part of your workout routine - congratulations! Walking, running, cycling and other continuous forms of aerobic activity are vital to the health of your heart and overall well-being. But if you find this type of exercise overwhelming or not enjoyable, there are some steps that can help you get back on track. Use these suggestions for making aerobic exercise an ongoing, safe and rewarding part of your life:

1. Any aerobic exercise is better than no aerobic exercise. Even a few minutes on a regular basis can be healthful, but if you want to experience all the benefits, aim for some continuous aerobic activity for thirty minutes a day, on average, five days a week.

2. Work up to this amount gradually and at your own pace, especially if you have not been exercising. Start with 10 minutes per day, then increase it to 15, and so on.

3. Do what you can, and don’t feel bad if you miss a day. I am recommending an average amount of activity over time. Feeling bad about missing exercise probably does you more harm than missing it.

4. In addition to aerobic workouts, find other ways to increase your daily activity, such as using the stairs, parking farther from your destination to walk more, and doing more physical work yourself instead of delegating it to others.

5. Competitive sports are not substitutes for aerobic activities such as walking, running and cycling. You want to aim for regular, continuous effort that tones your cardiovascular system, not sports that stop and go.

Want To Get More From Your Workout?

If you want to make your workouts more effective, consider a workout partner. A study from Michigan State suggests that the best approach to developing a longer, better workout may be exercising with a partner who is stronger than you. Most people don't meet the goal of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week. But when paired with a partner, study participants exercised 200 percent longer than those without partners.

I have long recommended spending time in the company of those who practice habits that you wish to emulate. Exercising with a friend is a good way to maintain a commitment to a regular workout, and exercising with someone who is a bit more fit than you are may motivate you to ask more of yourself, as did the students in this study. While it's good to be a bit uncomfortable with a routine that requires effort, and your workout should challenge you, be careful of injury - competition can be a powerful motivator, but a competitive spirit shouldn't override your body's signals that you're overdoing it.

Why You Shouldn’t Ever Quit Exercising

Here’s another good reason to continue exercising as you get older: it helps keep muscles strong and protects against sarcopenia, an age-related disease resulting in the loss of skeletal muscle mass and muscle strength or function that can lead to disability, poor quality of life and premature death. Researchers at Tokyo University assessed the prevalence of sarcopenia and its effects on physical performance in 1,000 Japanese men and women, age 65 and older enrolled in an ongoing study of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. The investigators measured the participants’ handgrip strength, gait speed, and skeletal muscle mass and collected information on their midlife exercise habits. They found sarcopenia in 13.8 of the men and 12.4 of the women, but the condition was less prevalent in study participants who reported exercising in middle age. In addition, the researchers said that midlife exercise was significantly associated with measures of grip strength, gait speed and one-leg standing after adjusting for age, sex and BMI. The study was presented at the International Osteoporosis Foundation Regionals 4th Asia-Pacific Osteoporosis Meeting, in Hong Kong December 12–15, 2013.

Get exercise and healthy eating tips when you join Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging.