Thompson, Dixie L. Ph.D., FACSM
Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and an associate professor in the Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Often people ask, "What is the best exercise for weight loss?" Many commercial exercise programs promise weight loss, but is there a "best" exercise for weight control? Although some exercises burn more calories per minute (i.e., higher intensity), and some burn a higher percentage of calories from fat (i.e., lower intensity), the best exercise for weight control and overall health is exercise performed consistently. Use these tips to find an exercise routine that works for you.
Symbol Set Realistic Goals
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Goal setting is critical in finding the right exercise program for you. Is your desired outcome weight loss? Fitness improvement? Stress reduction? Set realistic goals, and then build a program to reach them. You can do this on your own, or turn to a personal fitness trainer who has experience designing successful programs. To reach your goals, establish specific, measurable behavioral objectives, such as "I will walk for 30 minutes each evening after work."
Symbol Track Your Progress
Keeping a written record of your exercise provides positive reinforcement for those times when you are being consistent, and gentle encouragement when you are skipping workouts. Whatever you choose to record your exercise (notebook, PDA, etc.), make it a method that provides encouragement but is not burdensome.
Symbol Build a Support System
Identify people who can help you maintain your commitment to exercise. For example, exercise partners and personal trainers can be powerful motivational supports. It also is critical to find people who can help make it easier to build exercise into your life. For example, if your spouse agrees to pick up the children 3 days per week, you can use that time to exercise. If you explain to others how personally important following your exercise routine is, they may be more supportive of your efforts.
Symbol Periodically Reassess
Your exercise goals may change with time. At times you may be content with maintaining your current exercise level, but at other times you may aspire to higher goals. The key is focusing upon desired outcomes. Having purpose in your workouts will help you make them a priority. Also, use reassessment to determine whether your workouts are effective. For example, if you are attempting weight loss but your weight is not falling, it could be that your workouts are inconsistent, or it may have more to do with your eating habits.
Exercising regularly requires commitment and determination, but that does not mean it has to be drudgery! In the short term, you can make yourself perform exercises you don't like, but for long-term success, establish a routine that you find enjoyable and that fits your lifestyle. Joining a recreational league or a new club may be the boost you need to keep exercising. If you feel bored by your workouts, experiment with something new. There are always new and different approaches to try.
Symbol Monitor Eating
Exercise will burn calories, but it will only result in weight loss if you are burning more calories that you are eating. Establishing a modest caloric deficit, resulting in a 1- to 2-lb loss per week, is the recommended approach to achieving a healthy weight.
Use these tips as you attempt to stay active and maintain a healthy weight. Find what works for you, and you will be much more likely to stick with it. Remember, persistence is the key!