Fitness in One Lesson
by Kenneth W. Umbach, Ph.D.

Last revised (slightly) December 2002

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There are two, and only two, keys to achieving and maintaining fitness:

So what is an "appropriate" exercise program?

One size does not fit all. Exercise should be suited to the individual. However, for anyone who does not know quite where to start, here is what I recommend:
1. Walk briskly for 30 to 45 minutes every day--up to an hour if you like. (Start a little slower, and speed up as you warm up.) Maybe carry a pair of light dumbbells (3 to 5 pounds) and crank your arms a bit, to work more muscles. For weight loss, do this twice a day, or add item 2, below.

2. Use either a step-aerobics device (a platform designed to step on and off of for exercise--you can get them for $20 to $40) or a stair-climbing machine at a brisk pace for 30 minutes a day. Start slower, and work up the speed at each session. Also, start with shorter sessions until you work up your endurance. Combine with use of light dumbbells, if you can. Do it to music with a good beat. What's "brisk"? Fast enough so that your heart rate is up, you work up a sweat within about 10 minutes, you breathe deeply, but not so strenuous that you cannot talk normally, at least for a sentence or two at a time. If you are gasping for breath or cannot respond to a question, you are pushing too hard. Slow down. "Brisk" gets faster as you get fitter. Start where you are.

3. Use a pair of dumbbells--start with, say, 8 or 10 pounds (or as little as 3 or 5 pounds if you prefer)--and do forward curls, reverse curls, overhead presses, and lateral raises (elbows slightly bent--do standing and bent-over versions). Lots of them. Do as many as you can crank out for 30 minutes, two or three times a week. (Preferably not on consecutive days.) Start with less time for this and work up. As strength increases, increase the weight--maybe 12 or 15 pounds. This is important, because it will grow muscle, which in turn raises your basal metabolism As lean muscle mass increases, so does the number of calories burned, even at rest.

Read Susan Powter's Stop the Insanity for a clear explanation of such concepts as working within your fitness level and being "in oxygen." I cannot possibly explain it better. She is exactly on target.

Regularly read a good fitness magazine for motivation and information on technique. I particularly like Muscle and Fitness for tips and techniques, although much of it is aimed at body builders and the ads tend to emphasize unnecessary supplements, so pick what is appropriate for you.

Is more exercise better?

No. Up to two hours of aerobic exercise a day (divided into two or three sessions, for a total of up to two hours) is good. More is too much and will not improve the results. Also, take a day off now and then--say one day every week or ten days. If you can manage only 30 minutes a day, that is valuable, so don't feel that you have to aim for even an hour a day. If you can, great! If not, then just be consistent and get in 30 minutes of good aerobic exercise a day, and more when you can.  It does help if you listen to music with a good beat while doing aerobic exercise -- keeps you moving and makes the time go faster.

What does the exercise do for you?

The aerobic exercise does three key things: The resistance exercise (whether with weights or heavy-duty rubber-band-type devices) does several things:

How long does it take to get results?

A few weeks to a few months. Resistance exercise does start to pay off visibly pretty quickly, though, as long as it is done consistently and progressively (increasing the weight as strength increases). Aerobic conditioning can improve pretty steadily. When I started on the stair climbing machine (daily sessions), I could barely crank out 10 minutes. After 4 to 6 weeks I had worked up to a non-stop hour. This works in reverse, too. Laying off the stair climber for a couple of months reduced my tolerance to a half hour. A few sessions worked it back up.

What is "low-fat, high-fiber, high complex carbohydrate, nutrient-dense eating"?

It means eating: It means not eating: It means not going hungry. There is lots to choose from. You can make good-tasting, fat-free or low-fat versions of practically anything. It means reading labels. It means calculating percentage of calories from fat. The assertion "98 percent fat free" can still mean that a third or half of the calories come from fat. The "percent fat free" statements are worthless. Read the nutrition label and do the arithmetic yourself. Low-fat (1 percent) is a good choice, but avoid "reduced fat" (2 percent), as it is still too high in fat, especially saturated fat.

It means making a game of eliminating fat. Once you decide to do that, it's easy and entertaining.

It means eating well in every sense of the word. Low-fat eating--high in complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, pasta, legumes--is good, filling, sustaining, versatile, and easy.

Last notes

Throw out your high-fat, low-nutrition pantry and refrigerator items. Make the resolution, and just do it. Replace them with fat-free and low-fat alternatives only. Read the labels.

Take a multi-vitamin tablet daily--Centrum, or something like it. A 200 mcg chromium picolonate tablet daily is also a good idea. It helps to facilitate fat loss while sparing muscle tissue.

Excessive calorie restriction is counterproductive. Below, say, 1200 calories a day, the body reduces its metabolism rate, conserves fat, and consumes muscle. It says, "Hey! I'm starving! I'd better be stingy burning the calories." Anyway, you'll feel deprived and will fall off the regimen, as well as lacking the energy for sound exercise. Adopt eating habits you can live with continuously. DO NOT "DIET"! Do not think of yourself as "being on a diet." You're eating differently than you used to. This is not a diet. It is better habits--new tastes and preferences.

Keep a notebook recording everything you eat, every day, for at least a few weeks. You will learn a lot by doing this.

If you MUST count calories, aim at, say 1400 to 1500 per day. The exercise program will burn a large part of those every day. With a regular exercise program, as described, and with low-fat, high-fiber, high complex carbohydrate, nutrient-dense eating habits, over time excess weight will come off, a pound or two or three a week (sometimes more, sometimes less). Sometimes, as water temporarily replaces fat, weight will go up, even while fat is disappearing. As muscle is gained, there is a trade-off against fat-weight loss. What you see and feel means more than the number on the scale, especially over short periods.

Limiting dietary fat (which has 9 calories per gram, versus 4 per gram for protein and carbohydrate) automatically cuts calories, as well as reducing intake of that which the body most easily converts to body fat. Dietary fat becomes body fat. That is why it is so much more important to limit fat than to limit calories. (Not to mention that fat, especially saturated fat, clogs your arteries, and fat crowds out more valuable nutrients.)

Finally, if you just absolutely crave a piece of apple pie or a hamburger, or whatever, go ahead and have it. In the context of day-in and day-out low-fat, high fiber (etc.) eating habits, the occasional exception makes no difference at all. It's fine. Enjoy it. No problem. In fact, set aside one meal a week to have anything you want, if you feel like it. In time, you'll find that cravings get rarer, and rarer, and more easily satisfied when they do come around, and that "anything you want" becomes less and less out of line with your regular low-fat, high-fiber, high complex carbohydrate, nutrient dense preferences.

Permission is granted to copy and redistribute this file, entire and unchanged, including this notice, for non-commercial purposes. If it is for use on the Web, you may link to the file, but do not copy it to another site (except of course for the temporary copy that a browser caches to disk). Please note that I am not a physician and do not offer the above discussion as medical advice. The information above is the result of extensive reading and experience, and I believe it to be sound and sensible. By all means, print this file and discuss it with your physician. If your physician disagrees with anything in "Fitness in One Lesson" I would like to know of that.

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