To work out more effectively and get faster, safer results, you need to know the right answers to your fitness questions. Here are some of the most common queries, fielded by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) during their annual Fitness on Call event.
1. How do I start an exercise program?
The short answer is slowly. Doing too much, too quickly, is one of the fastest ways to end up back on the couch or worse. Walking is arguably the easiest, most convenient way to start getting into shape, but cycling, an exercise class, or any other moderate intensity activity will do. Just choose something you'll enjoy.
You can begin with as little as 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 5 days a week. Choose a pace that is comfortable so that sore muscles won't discourage you from continuing. After a week or so, gradually increase either the length of time or the number of days a week that you're exercising. Slowly work up to at least 30 minutes, most days of the week.
2. How much exercise do I need to do to lose weight?
Exercise alone may not be the best way to slim down. To lose a pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories. Since walking a mile burns about 80 calories, you'd have to cover 44 miles to lose a pound!
But losing weight can be much easier if you combine exercising with a little calorie cutting. If you want to lose about a pound a week (a safe, healthy recommendation), you need a 500-calorie deficit each day. You can achieve that by exercising off about 300 calories (a 3- to 4-mile walk or an exercise class) and cutting back on what you eat by 200 calories (a can of soda and two pats of butter)a day.
3. What's the best piece of home exercise equipment to buy?
One that you'll use regularly, so choose one that you enjoy. If you want to read while you exercise, it may be easier to do on a stationary bike than a treadmill. Also, keep in mind any conditions that may limit your activity. For example, a cross-country ski machine is probably not the best choice if you have chronic shoulder pain.
If you're not sure which piece of equipment you'd enjoy most, get a guest pass to a local health club and try a variety of machines before you buy. Other things to consider when buying exercise equipment: space and cost.
4. What can I do to lose fat in my belly?
Sit-ups or crunches alone won't conquer the bulge. Abdominal exercises will strengthen the muscles underneath the fat. But you need to do some type of aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or cycling. And watch what you eat!
5. Which is best, cardio exercise or weight training?
Whether you're trying to lose weight, get into shape, or just stay healthy, both types of exercise are important for different reasons. Cardio, or aerobic, exercise conditions your heart and lungs, helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improves your endurance. Weight, or strength, training helps prevent the loss of muscle that usually occurs as you get older. With strength training, you'll stay strong, keep your metabolism revved up, and maintain good posture.
Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times a week, and 20 minutes of strength training two or three times a week.
ACE Get You Moving
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636, or go to their Web site.
Michele Stanten, Prevention's Fitness Director, is a certified group fitness instructor and counselor in the areas of weight control and stress management.