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The role of exercise in weight loss/maintenance

Exercise and a healthy approach to food are vital in the quest for weight loss and weight management. They are both essential components of a healthy lifestyle. A good ratio to aspire towards is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition. The foods we eat are very important in this quest. We just cannot eat uncontrollably and think that some activity/exercise in the mix is enough. 


Simply put to get the best benefits from exercise, we must be eating well. I have found that my body responds best to exercise when I am eating ‘clean’. By clean I mean eating primarily real, nutrient dense foods. 


I would now like to make a distinction between exercise and physical activity. They are both important components of a healthy lifestyle. 

Oftentimes, these terms are used interchangeably or misused. Any movement one does is physical activity. Conversely, exercise is defined as planned, structured, repetitive and intentional physical effort, embarked on with the aim of sustaining or improving health and maintaining or improving fitness levels.


Physical inactivity (a predominantly sedentary lifestyle and/or a lack of exercise) has been identified by The World Health Organization (WHO) 

as an independent risk factor for chronic disease development.


Research shows that all physical activity has a positive impact on our health and wellness. Exercise improves cardiovascular health, endurance, strength, flexibility and body composition.


A minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise is recommended to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is however not good to then be mostly sedentary as we commute, work at our desk and generally be couch potatoes, for the greater part of our day. High levels of inactivity through the day can very quickly nullify the little exercise done, causing major health problems.


There are a number of ways to help increase physical activity. Try standing more often than sitting during and after work. We should wherever possible walk and use stairs instead of elevators. Safety is important always though, so if stairs are isolated then it is probably safer to use elevators. Are you one who typically looks for a spot close to the entrance as you park? Why not try parking some distance away from the entrance and walking some. Again always ensure that your environment is safe. 


At home, we can increase our physical activity by gardening, doing various exercises with weights while we watch television.


I will now concentrate on exercise. Are you aware that people can exercise quite well and regularly, but not enjoy the desired results? This is likely the result of bad eating habits. Like I mentioned earlier, it is futile to eat uncontrollably and think that some activity will make a difference. 


Exercise we must, to help us feel and I dare say look our best. The kind of exercise we choose will ultimately be driven by what we enjoy and feel comfortable doing and of course our goals. Exercise is also a great stress buster. Our goals should be set to get/keep us healthy and fit. This does not necessarily equate to being skinny, as our bodies are all built differently.


Exercise will make us healthier. It is also exhilarating as it releases the 'feel good', 'happy' hormone, endorphins. They are responsible for the happy, satisfied feeling after a completed workout, the joyful anticipation of the next session, or just the growing confidence in our own capabilities.


There are so many different forms of exercise to choose from: walking, jogging, running, swimming, weight lifting, kick and shadow boxing, spinning, aerobic classes etc. Our choices should ultimately be driven, by what we will enjoy. I recommend doing a variety. It keeps it exciting and will ensure maximum benefits. 


Are you new to exercise, or have you not exercised in a long time? If your answer is yes, I recommend small, intentional, incremental steps. 

Walking is a good way to jump start your exercise routine. You can start with a slow to moderate pace for at least 30 minutes, say three times, in the first week. At this stage you are being intentional with small steps. Start to think about incremental steps...by increasing to five times, by the third or fourth week. You can also try increasing your pace to a brisk walk and start to use your arms to propel yourself forward. This is referred to as 'power walking'. It is also beneficial to hold light dumbbells for added resistance, as you power walk.


By this time, you should hopefully have a groove going, and perhaps are starting to enjoy the benefits of exercise, such as increased energy and confidence. This is a good time to slowly progress to a mix of walking and a gentle jog for a week or two. Then try gentle jogging for up to 30 minutes, 3 times a week, if you feel comfortable. The next logical step would be to try increasing your pace to a run. Increasing your distance and mixing your jog with short and fast sprints, is another good variation. 


As mentioned there are many different forms of exercise. As I said earlier, walking is a good start, as is swimming. A varied routine with swimming as with other forms of exercise is always best. 


Let’s take a quick look at foods that compliment exercise. The length and intensity of our planned routine will determine what we should eat and drink. As an example, we will require more energy from food to run a marathon than we would to walk a few miles. 


I recommend the consumption of slow-digesting carbs, protein and low fat eaten a couple of hours before exercise. I find that these help me work out for a longer duration and/or higher intensity. Carbohydrates are needed to supply our body with the glycogen it needs and protein aids in the repairs of any torn muscles.


As mentioned earlier, my experience with exercise, has always been that when I am eating well (‘clean’), my body responds better and quicker. It really is phenomenal, try it and see.

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