The World Health Organization and the Surgeon General recommend that adults get a minimum of 150 weekly minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g., walking, dancing, light swimming) or 75 weekly minutes of vigorous activity (e.g. running, cycling, fast swimming). If you do this, you'll experience some health benefits, but for even better results and weight loss, the recommendation is to shoot for 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
But if you're currently living a sedentary lifestyle, all that activity probably sounds overwhelming and unrealistic. Well, before you decide it's out of the question, here's some good news. A study in the journal Preventive Medicine showed that sedentary adults who complete short bouts of light to moderate physical activity (such as walking briskly around the block) for just six minutes at a time, five times per day, can experience similarly significant improvements in their overall physical fitness as people who complete one continuous bout of exercise. You know the old joke about how to eat an elephant? One bit at a time. It's the same with exercise. You don't have to do it all at once, especially when you're first starting out.
In his book The 20/20 Diet: Turn Your Weight Loss Vision Into Reality, Dr. Phil says there are 4 important steps you need to take in order to make your exercise regimen just another part of your overall routine:
1. Recognize the payoffs of exercise.
The benefits of exercise in any weight loss program are numerous. Exercise has the power to improve overall health and appearance. You need to internalize these benefits so you know why you are making this effort.
2. Make it motivating.
The training routines in The 20/20 Diet can be done almost anywhere, with varying types of activities, so choose a place and type that appeal to you. If you enjoy companionship while exercising, get a friend, family member, or coworker to join you. And here's a tip: listen to music that motivates you during your workout. Studies show that you're more likely to move or walk faster if you're listening to upbeat music.
3. "Consequate" your exercise behavior.
If you currently find exercise less than desirable, pair it with a positive reward so that in order to get the reward, you must first exercise. For example, you might tell your kids they cannot watch TV until they do their homework. (If they don't do their homework, the consequence is no TV.) Similarly, find something, anything, that you will not allow yourself to do until you've exercised each day. It could be combing your hair, reading the newspaper, taking a shower -- anything that you value and want/need to do.
4. Monitor your progress.
Every step of the way, you've got to take mental or physical notes of how you're improving each week. If you are using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, take note of how long it takes you to get to an 8 or 9 on the scale. That time will start to decrease. Also, take a full-body photo of yourself before you start the program and then more photos every couple of weeks so you can look back and see the change in your muscles and physique. You might even modify your vision of the future as you see what you're capable of and remind yourself that your hard work leads to definitive and measurable progress.
Modified excerpt from The 20/20 Diet: Turn Your Weight Loss Vision Into Reality by Dr. Phil McGraw (Bird Street Books).
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