Get fit for good: these 30 tips and tools will help you get excited about exercise and keep you injury-free

Get fit for good: these 30 tips and tools will help you get excited about exercise and keep you injury-free – Consumer guide: how to be an educated consumer

Rich Gravelin

ONCE YOU BECOME HOOKED on exercise, the benefits add up quickly. You can lose weight, boost your mood, lower your blood pressure, and even improve your cholesterol profile. But gearing up to start or getting back into a lapsed routine can be tough. Because this is the time of year when most of us pledge to become fit, we asked top fitness experts for help. Here are 30 ways to ignite your enthusiasm for exercise and stay committed.

Find Fast Motivation

Sometimes you need a boost to get moving, whether you’re a beginning exerciser or a veteran of the gym. These techniques can fire you up in no time and help you stick to your program.

1 Start Small. A lack of free time is one of the top reasons people give for skipping exercise. But if you squeeze in a few minutes here and there, you’ll feel great and want to do more. For example, use full shopping bags to do biceps curls when you return home from the grocery store, recommends Marilyn Bach, Ph.D., a fitness consultant in St. Paul, Minn., and author of Shape Walking: Six Easy Steps to Your Best Body (Hunter House, 2002). For some simple moves you can do on the job, see “The No-Sweat Office Workout,” page 80.

2 Make It Social. You’re more likely to exercise if you commit to meeting someone else, says Bob Anderson, a fitness writer in Palmer Lake, Colo., and author of Stretching (Shelter Publications, 2000). A workout partner can provide entertaining conversation or competition while you walk or encourage you to get to yoga class. If you prefer the camaraderie of a group, consider contacting the American Volkssport Association (210-659-2112; www.ava.org), a nonprofit organization based in Universal City, Texas, that promotes noncompetitive walking and supports local walking groups.

3 Treat Yourself. Try this fun trick to motivate yourself: Buy a jar and enough multicolored marbles to fill it, Bach suggests. Each time you exercise, add a marble to the jar. When the jar is full, lavish a luxury like a massage on yourself.

4 Do What You Like. You’re more apt to keep exercising if you choose an activity you love, says Jay Kimiecik, Ph.D., an associate professor of exercise motivation at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Stumped for ideas? Ask yourself what you liked to do most as a child, suggests Tori Hudson, N.D., a naturopath and professor at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore. Investigate all the fitness classes offered in your area and sign up for one that intrigues you. (Call your town’s churches or parks and recreation department to find out what’s offered.) You may discover a new passion for tai chi or ballroom dancing.

5 Stay Positive. Small successes (like climbing the stairs without feeling winded) help you associate exercise with a sense of accomplishment and keep you enthusiastic, says Ila Sarley, a yoga teacher in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and co-author of Walking Yoga (Fireside, 2002). But set goals that are attainable and make you feel good. If your goals involve others (like an office challenge to walk the most steps per week), keep the competition friendly; if it starts to feel defeating, saps your enjoyment, or is otherwise negative, bow out.

6 Wear a Heart Rate Monitor. This device aids motivation because it gives instant feedback on how you’re doing. It tracks the speed of your heart beats and ensures that you’re working hard enough to benefit your heart but not so hard that you risk injury, says Edmund Burke, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and author of Precision Heart Rate Training (Human Kinetics, 1998). Your goal should be to exercise at 65 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (instructions with the monitor will explain how to calculate this). A heart rate monitor is an especially good tool if you’re a walker who might stroll at too leisurely a pace to get an aerobic workout. Burke recommends Polar heart rate monitors. They come with an electrode that attaches to your chest and a wrist-watch-like device that displays your heart rate ($50; 800-290-6330; www.polarusa.com).

7 Energize for Exercise. Next time you’re too tired to exercise, try one of these pick-me-ups. About two hours before you exercise, smear a slice of whole-grain bread with 1 1/2 teaspoons of natural peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of no-sugar-added jam, says Deanna Conte, R.D., a dietitian at The Sports Club/LA in Boston. This snack contains healthy protein, fat, and carbohydrates, which help to stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels. If you’re still unmotivated, tell yourself you’ll just go for a brisk five-minute walk, Sarley says. As you walk, breathe in for a count of three and then breathe out slowly. This mini meditation increases your focus and may help you complete a longer workout. Or listen to a tape or CD of chanting, Sarley says. Advocates believe that listening to this ancient music regularly may increase your energy level. Try Chanting the Chakras: Roots of Awakening (Sounds True, 2001) by Layne Redmond.

8 Try a Race. Training for an event like a charity walk or run can be very motivating, Anderson says. Not only does it give you a big goal to aim for, but many race organizations also offer training programs that plot out what you need to achieve in the months leading up to the race to be fit enough to finish. To find out about events near you, visit www .racewalk.com. This site offers links to upcoming races, some of which provide training programs.

9 Count Your Steps. A device called a pedometer clips to your waistband and counts how many steps you take in a day. A quick glance at the digital readout can motivate you to walk more. The SW-200-024 Digiwalker from New Lifestyles is a reliable, easy-to-use pedometer ($27; 888-748-5377; www.digiwalker.com).

10 Do It for Your Health. “Exercise is about more than just losing weight,” says Lisa R. Callahan, M.D., medical director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and author of The Fitness Factor (Lyons Press, 2002). It also reduces your risk of serious diseases like cancer. Recognizing the life-saving role of exercise can keep you motivated. For statistics on just how much protection exercise provides, see “Why You Should Exercise,” above.

11 Introduce Change. Novelty makes exercise fun. Add a new element to your routine. For example, if you’re a dedicated walker, try a yoga video or a cross-country skiing lesson. Use headphones to listen to music or books on tape as you exercise, suggests Hudson. Or, if you normally jog around the block, drive to a nature preserve for a change in scenery.

12 Track Your Body Fat. As you stick with exercise, it can be encouraging to see your body fat percentage gradually drop. Tracking body fat may be more inspiring than stepping on a scale because muscle weighs more than fat. If your workouts build muscle, your weight may not drop, and it may even increase. A trainer at a gym or your doctor can help you measure your body fat and tell you if you’re in a healthy range. Or try the Tanita BF-625 Scale and Body Fat Monitor. This at-home model looks like a regular scale but gives both your weight and your body fat percentage by sending a low-level electrical signal into your body ($80; 800-982-6482; www.tanita.com). Water retention can affect its accuracy, so measure yourself first thing in the morning, before you’ve consumed food or liquids, Burke says.

Prevent and Treat an Injury

Not only does an injury hurt, it can curtail your future exercise. Fortunately, most injuries are preventable, and minor injuries can be healed quickly to minimize your down time. The next seven tips help you prevent injury, and the three that follow help you recover.

13 Use Correct Form. Moving the right way during exercise helps you avoid injury, says Jeff Rupp, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University in Atlanta. For example, moving slowly and steadily while lifting weights helps you pay attention to body sensations and spot pain before you’re injured. If you have questions about form, ask a personal trainer at your gym or consider buying an instructional video, like Shaping Up with Weights for Dummies (IDG, 2000). This tape offers a full-body workout that emphasizes proper technique.

14 Hydrate. If you’re dehydrated, your body may not recover as quickly after a workout (leaving you sore longer). Drink 2 cups of water two hours before you exercise, a cup right before you start, and a cup every 15 minutes during your workout, recommends Robyn Stuhr, an exercise physiologist at the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

15 Give Yourself a Time-Out. It sounds counter-intuitive, but you’ll get stronger from exercise if you rest. Always take a day off after a hard workout or a full-body strength-training session. This day allows your muscles to heal and grow stronger. You don’t need a day of rest after moderate exercise like walking.

16 Take Vitamin E. You may prevent pain after exercise by taking a vitamin E supplement daily. In a double-blind study conducted at Tufts University in Boston, 21 sedentary people received either 800 IU of vitamin E or a placebo every day for 48 days and were instructed not to exercise. On the 49th day, they ran hard for 45 minutes on a treadmill. Participants who took the supplement were less likely to be injured. Take 400 to 800 IU of natural vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) with food daily. As an added bonus, this daily dose may provide heart disease protection.

17 Don’t Advance Too Quickly. Once you get into an exercise groove, it can be tempting to try to log more miles or lift more pounds. But experts say that it’s safest to increase by no more than 10 percent a week. For example, if you can lift 20 pounds 12 times in a row and are ready to try a heavier weight, increase to just 22 pounds. Advance too fast and you risk injuries that could halt your exercise routine altogether, says Anderson.

18 Warm UP and Cool Down. Warming up increases blood flow to your muscles and tendons and prevents soreness. Take 10 minutes to do jumping jacks or any other activity that makes you break a light sweat and then stretch any muscles that feel tight, Hudson says. After your workout, take 10 minutes to get your heart rate to within eight to 10 beats of your normal range, Anderson says. To do this, simply lower the intensity of your activity. For example, if your usual workout is a brisk walk, slow to a stroll. A cool-down gives your circulatory system a chance to flush out the wastes produced during exercise that trigger muscle aches and fatigue.

19 Stretch. Post-exercise stretches offer several benefits: They prevent soreness and increase your flexibility, which protects you from serious injury and may shorten your recovery time if you suffer a twist or pull. Anderson recommends the following quick full-body routine. Breathe deeply throughout the stretches.

Full Body Stretch: Lie on the floor on your back. Extend your arms on the floor over your head and reach your hands as far away from your feet as you can. Hold for 30 seconds, and then relax.

Back and Leg Flex: Remain lying on the floor. Place both hands under your right knee, bend it, and pull it toward your chest. Keep your head and shoulders on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, release, and repeat with your left knee.

Shoulder Shrug: Stand with your arms hanging at your sides. Shrug your shoulders up to your earlobes, hold for 3 to 5 seconds, and then release. Repeat twice.

Leg Energizers: From a standing position, bend your knee to lift your right foot a few inches off the ground and slowly rotate it 10 to 15 times clockwise and then counterclockwise. Repeat with your left foot.

Calf Stretch: Stand 2 to 3 feet from a wall. Place your hands at shoulder height on the wall. Bring your right foot forward until your toes almost touch the wall. Bend your right knee, and extend your left foot on the floor out behind you until you feel a stretch. Keep both feet flat on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the opposite side.

Quad Stretch: Rest your left hand on a wall to steady yourself. Grab your right foot with your right hand and pull your heel toward your buttocks, stopping when you feel an easy stretch. Don’t arch your back. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, release, and repeat on the opposite side.

20 Try Homeopathy. For swelling, bruises, or general soreness, take homeopathic Arnica montana tablets as soon as possible after your injury. Arnica comes from a European plant called leopard’s bane and has been used for centuries to treat injuries. Take a 30C potency twice daily until the injury heals. You’ll find Arnica in the homeopathic section of most natural food stores and some drugstores.

21 Treat with RICE. If you experience muscle or joint pain, follow the RICE regimen recommended by most sports injury experts. This acronym stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate. First, stop all moderate to strenuous activity. Next, place ice in a plastic bag and apply it to the injury for 15 minutes every three hours during waking hours until the swelling goes down, which may take two or three days. At the same time, compress the area with an elastic bandage without binding it too tightly (you should be able to slide your finger under the bandage). Leave the bandage on all the time until the swelling goes down. Finally, elevate the injured area for as long as possible during the first two or three days so that it’s higher than the joint above it. (For example, if you twist an ankle, lie down and keep your foot elevated above your knee.) Call your doctor if your symptoms do not subside within two or three days, or if you experience a loss of motion.

22 Warm It. Heat (from a heating pad or hot water bottle) can also ease pain. But you need to use it at the right time because heat can increase blood flow to the injury, making any swelling worse. Follow the RICE regimen until swelling subsides (usually 48 to 72 hours), and then apply heat for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, three or four times a day.

Gear Up for Success

The right clothes and equipment can help you stay comfortable, avoid injury, and have more fun.

23 Pick the Right Shoes. You need athletic shoes that suit your feet and your activities to prevent pain and injury. Try on as many pairs as necessary to find a pair that’s instantly comfortable; you should never have to break them in, Callahan says.

The right shoe depends on whether you overpronate (your feet roll inward when you walk), supinate (you have high arches and your feet roll outward when you walk), or you walk normally, Stuhr says. A podiatrist or sports medicine doctor can help you figure this out, or you can judge by looking at the prints made by your bare feet when your feet are wet. If you can see the outline of your entire foot, you overpronate and need a shoe with more stability. If you can only see the ball and heel of your foot, you supinate and need a shoe that offers more cushioning. If you can see the ball, heel, and a little of the outside edge of your foot, your foot is normal.

Match your shoes to the activity you do most often. Don’t buy running shoes if you usually walk, for example. If you exercise in a variety of ways, then cross-training shoes are probably your best option.

24 Shade Your Eyes and Skin. If you exercise outside, wear both sunglasses and an SPF 15 sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection (even in winter). Minimizing glare and sunburn not only prevents eye and skin damage and skin cancer, but it also keeps you comfortable enough to exercise.

25 Choose Comfy Clothing. Consider purchasing at least one top and pair of shorts made of polypropylene, says Michael J. Hewitt, Ph.D., research director for exercise science at Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Ariz. CoolMax is a common brand of this synthetic fabric. It moves sweat away from your body (unlike cotton, which absorbs moisture and holds it against your skin). As a result, you stay dry and don’t suffer chafing or shivering, two motivation killers. As a bonus, these lightweight fabrics are easy to pack, and they wash and dry quickly in a hotel bathroom. You might try the Full Court V-Neck top and Ring Mesh shorts from Athleta. Handy for all kinds of workouts, these pieces are made of a wicking fabric that stays light and silky even as you start to get sweaty ($48 for top and $44 for shorts; 888-322-5515; www .athleta.com).

26 Protect Yourself from the Elements. With the right clothes, you can exercise outside even when it’s cold or rainy. If it’s rainy, Bach recommends that you dress in layers. Wear a wicking material like polypropylene against your body to keep your skin dry, and top it with a waterproof jacket that’s also wind resistant. When it’s cold, add an insulating middle layer like fleece. For your jacket, consider the Highlight Shell from Hind. Made of a polyester fabric that’s windproof and waterproof, the jacket’s popsicle orange color and reflector strip ensure that you’re visible to motorists ($90; 800-952-4463; www .hind.com).

27 Consider Your Socks. The right socks can keep your feet comfortable during your workout. For example, walking socks provide extra padding on the ball, heel, and instep of your foot to cushion your foot. Choose socks made with fibers that wick moisture away from your foot, providing insurance against blisters, Bach says. One such sock is the Thorlos Lite Walking Sock, made with a cushiony blend of nylon, spandex, and CoolMax ($11; 888-846-7567; www.thorlo.com).

28 Prepare for Yoga. If you practice yoga, a “sticky mat” is a must; it prevents your feet and hands from slipping. For a recommendation for one kind of sticky mat, see “Make Yoga Easier,” News and Notes, page 27. Keep a blanket near your mat to support your body during certain poses and wear comfortable, nonbinding clothing, says Jeff Migdow, M.D., director of prana yoga teacher training at Open Center in New York City. We like the Blue Canoe yoga tank top and boot-cut leggings made with a combination of soft organic cotton and Lycra ($36 for top and $58 for pants; 888-923-1373; www.bluecanoe .com). This outfit is best for gentle, nonsweaty yoga; if you perspire a lot, you might consider clothes made of a wicking fabric instead.

29 Get a Great Set of Weights. If you’re just starting a strength-training program, buy four sets of rubber-coated dumbbells in 3-, 5-, 8-, and 10-pound weights. The 3-pounder is light enough for a beginner, and the heavier weights are suitable as you get stronger. Buy the weights at a sporting goods store or order them by mail; Body Trends is one mail-order source ($1.50 to $10.50 for 3-to 10-pound dumbbells; 800-549-1667; www.bodytrends.com). Or try resistance bands. Pulling on these lightweight, stretchy rubber tubes gives your muscles a workout. As a bonus, they’re convenient for travel. The fitness bands from Harbinger have sturdy foam handles and offer a guide to the right way to use them inside the box ($15; 800-729-5958; www.harbingerfitness.com).

30 Have a Ball. Keep a fitness ball (sometimes called a stability ball) near your television set at home. Sitting on this large ball or leaning against it while doing sit-ups and other exercises engages your abdominal and back muscles, strengthening and toning them. The right ball for you depends on your height; be sure to ask about different sizes when you order. One source for fitness balls is Fitness First ($16 to $27; 800-421-1791; www.fitness1st.com).

RELATED ARTICLE: Why you should exercise.

Consider This

Studies show that regular physical activity–for example, a brisk 30-minute walk five times a week and two 45-minute strength-training sessions a week–can help you prevent serious diseases and feel great. Here is some of the most impressive proof that it’s worth the effort:

Protect Your Heart. Regular exercise reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease by up to 50 percent, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Defeat Diabetes. Women ages 55 to 69 who exercise most days of the week are 50 percent less likely to develop non-insulin-dependent diabetes, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology.

Prevent Cancer. Women who get regular exercise are 30 to 40 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Exercising most days of the week also decreases a man’s risk of prostate cancer by as much as 30 percent, the institute says, Beat the Blues. People who are physically active most days of the week are half as likely to have symptoms of depression, says the Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health.

Stay Young. Working out with weights at least twice a week reduces the loss of muscle strength that inactive people experience as they age, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

RELATED ARTICLE: The no-sweat office workout.

Getting Started

Statistics show that we’re spending more time than ever at work, and many of us spend that time at computers. So we asked Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., the San Diego-based chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, for simple moves you can do at your desk to keep your body limber and your mind clear. You can do them individually or all at once, and each takes no more than a minute or two to complete.

Desk Push-Up

Stand in front of your desk. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the desk edge, and move your feet back so that your body is straight but at an a slight angle to the desk. Bend your elbows, keeping them close to your body. Lower your chest toward the desk, and return to your starting point. Repeat 7 to 11 times.

Knee Bends

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides. Bend your knees and lower your buttocks toward the floor until your thighs are parallel to the floor, Keep your back straight, and imagine that you’re sitting down. To avoid injury, keep your knees over your ankles. Hold for a few seconds, and return to a standing position. Repeat 7 to 11 times.

Back Stretch

Sit up tall in your chair. Cross your right knee over your left knee. Lower your torso to your lap, hanging your arms over your legs for 30 seconds. Return to an upright position and repeat the stretch with your legs reversed.

Knee Extensions

Sit up tall in your chair. Lift and extend your legs until they’re parallel to the floor. Squeeze your thigh muscles and buttocks, and hold for five seconds. Return your feet to the floor. Repeat 7 to 11 times.

Ab Strengtheners

Sit up tall in your chair. Contract your stomach for 10 seconds as if you are pressing your bellybutton against your spine. Release. Repeat 7 to 11 times.

–Lori Morris

Rich Gravelin is Natural Health’s research editor. To keep his cardiovascular workouts fun and challenging, he uses an elliptical machine, a stationary bike, and a boxing routine.

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