EXERCISE YOUR OPTIONS

By JOANNE RICHARD
SPECIAL TO THE TORONTO SUN ... February 20, 2004

If your vow to shape up just ain't taking shape so far this new year, you're not alone. Getting healthier and fitter takes time, effort and sheer determination. There are no short cuts to long-term health and wellness gains, say the experts.

So, here are five workout issues addressed by the fitness pros to help you re-kickstart your resolution to get fitter for 2004, and help you work out more effectively, and get faster, safer results:

YIKES! WHERE DO I START?

There is "nothing to it but to do it," says Josh Hewett, who believes that doing "something is better than nothing."

According to Hewett, a certified personal trainer at Eclipse Fitness Club, at Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave., there are a few things to consider before beginning an exercise program.

"First of all you should set realistic goals for yourself, by considering your schedule, physical limitations, budget, etc." To get off to a safe start with an effective exercise routine, book a physical assessment with a fitness professional, which usually involves physical measurements, a health history questionnaire, and an assessment of your goals and needs.

Dr. Sender Deutsch strongly recommends being screened by a health-care professional and if you're not familiar with working out, consider at least a few sessions with a fitness trainer who can create a personalized program for you, specific to your goals and body dynamics.

DO RESEARCH ...

"This will allow exercisers to achieve goals safely and efficiently, along with being educated about proper exercise form as well as nutrition," recommends Deutsch, director of SHAPE Health and Wellness Centre on Davenport Rd.

Hewett adds that if a few sessions with a personal trainer is not in your budget, do your research via accurate reading material. "In general, it is a good idea to incorporate elements of resistance training, cardiovascular training, and flexibility training into your program."

Be sure to start out slowly when you begin to exercise and gradually increase the frequency, intensity and/or duration of your physical activity over several weeks, says Hewett.
 
"Try to keep it simple in the beginning; avoid becoming overwhelmed."

USE IT TO LOSE IT ...

"Most research now indicates that in order to lose weight you should be exercising for a minimum 60 minutes most days of the week," says Deutsch. "But exercise alone is not the only factor in weight loss. It should be combined with healthy eating in order to achieve the greatest results."

Hewett agrees: "How you eat is at least equally as important as how you exercise. Again, reading materials, a personal trainer or nutritionist are great resources to establish healthy eating habits."

Hewett's basic tips include: Drink more water, eat smaller meals more frequently, consume more nutrient-dense foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.), eat adequate protein, don't eat in the late evening, eat after your workout (not right before), avoid junk food, and eat fewer starchy carbohydrate foods -- especially in the evening.

"A regular, consistent healthy exercise routine combined with healthy eating habits will help you reduce body fat," says Hewett. "There is no magic amount or type of exercise that will make anyone lose weight." Do not focus solely on body weight, but on how you look and feel, how your clothes fit, and how your physical measurements change.

Hewett recommends starting with three resistance training (weights) workouts and three cardiovascular workouts weekly, of about 30 to 45 minutes each session. "This will help provide some structure to your routine. However, it is a good idea to increase your daily activity level in as many other ways as possible as well: Walk instead of drive, take the stairs, go for a bike ride instead of watching TV, take breaks at work to move around, etc."

HOME SWEAT HOME ...

The best combination of home exercise equipment to buy is one of a treadmill, bike or elliptical machine and a bench along with some free weights such as dumbbells, and a stability ball, says Deutsch.

Hewett recommends taking into account your budget, the space you have available, your experience level and goals. He recommends checking out fitness equipment chains such as Fitness Source or Fitness Depot.

And keep it simple: "I recommend most of my in-home clients start with just an inflatable exercise ball, two pairs of exercise tubing (different tensions) and a pair of light dumbbells, and then build from there. You'd be surprised how much of a workout you can get with just the basics and bodyweight exercises," says Hewett.

But before you invest any large sum of money, be realistic with yourself as to whether you will use it consistently. "Many people find it difficult to motivate themselves to train at home. At a gym, the environment is usually very conducive to maintaining an exercise routine."

WHITTLE YOUR MIDDLE ...

The biggest misconception within the fitness industry is the notion that one can spot reduce, says Daniela Durante. "Most people believe that sit-ups will tone their stomach alone or arm curls will ultimately reduce the fat on your arms. There is no such thing as spot reduction.

"Fat is burned all over your body through a combination of aerobic exercise and anaerobic weight training programs," says Durante, a conditioning specialist at SHAPE Health and Wellness Centre.

High intensity exercise has been proven to produce the most fat burning effects post-workout, says Deutsch. "Your body needs to be constantly challenged and shocked. Most people tend to stop seeing results as they develop a routine and neglect to change their program causing their body to adapt."

Deutsch says the best results can be seen from cross-training programs: "For example, one day you ride the bike for 30 to 45 minutes, the next day you do a circuit training program with weights, while the following day you do sprints on the treadmill, and so on."

RUN OR LIFT ...

It's not one or the other -- it's both. A combination and balance of cardiovascular exercise and weight training is extremely important, stresses Deutsch. "The combination will ensure that you maintain your lean body mass (muscle) while you burn calories through aerobic exercise. As well, both modes of exercise have been shown to increase your metabolism. Combining the two together is an excellent way of achieving your goals and obtaining results."

Balance is key, stresses Hewett. "Cardiovascular exercise can improve your lung capacity, endurance, oxygen circulation, while consuming calories. Weight training can improve your bone density, muscle tone, strength, posture, while increasing your metabolism."