Losing weight vs. Keeping weight offLosing weight and keeping weight off are not one in the same. It’s something I tell my patients all the time. If you are trying to lose weight, all the exercise your body can handle will have little impact on your waistline if you continue eating an unhealthy diet. And if you are trying to keep weight off, a healthy diet can only get you so far. Your body needs exercise. I know this sounds like common sense but it cannot be overstated. A healthy diet and exercise go hand-in-hand but they work in different ways. Here are two common scenarios that prove it. Scenario #1: You do not eat a very healthy diet but you just began working out three times a week. You push yourself pretty hard and you burn about 500 calories per workout. Your body will demand that you consume more calories to help it rehydrate and recover. Without a diet change, you are just putting empty and unhealthy calories back into your body at the very time it needs healthy calories. Result: Little to no weight loss. Scenario #2: You’ve lost 10-20 pounds in the span of months with a strict diet. This is possible without working out even once. After that weight goal is reached, you get a little lax on following the diet. In time, you slowly return to your pre-diet eating habits. Result: You slowly regain the weight that you lost. If you have recently lost weight, congratulations! It probably wasn’t easy, and I’m glad that you have committed to becoming a healthier and happier you. Whether you realize it or not, losing weight is only the first step. The larger goal is living and feeling healthy.
A pill-free prescription for lifelong healthI normally don’t do this, but I’m writing a prescription right now to you and anyone else who might read this: Exercise! If you don’t exercise now, it does not take much to get started. If you already exercise, add a little more to your routine. As with nearly all medications, my prescription has some side effects that you need to know:
- Keeping lost weight off
- Prevention/management of heart disease
- Prevention/management of breast cancer
- Prevention/management of osteoporosis
- Prevention/management of Type-2 diabetes
- Prevention/management of mental illness
- Improved self-esteem and confidence
Making exercise a part of your routineOne final disclaimer on this prescription: I’m not just prescribing that you exercise, but that you exercise regularly. After all, a person with a prescription doesn’t just take it by the light of the blue moon, right? I want you to try to exercise three to five times a week. It does not take a lot to get started either. Begin by walking 5 minutes a day. Then 10 minutes a day. If you walk your dog, walk it more often and for a few more blocks than usual. Gardening, dancing, riding your bike. Taking the stairs a floor or two instead of the elevator. All of these activities do not take a lot of resources to start doing today. Talk with your doctor about which exercises would work best for you. For those, like me, who prefer structure and routines, the five-a-week plan is a great way to engrain exercise into your life. Simply put, five-a-week means five exercise sessions of 30 minutes or more per week. You pick the exercises and fill in your schedule. And pick exercises that you enjoy—the more fun you can make it, the more likely you are to stay the course. Those who are just beginning to exercise for the time in a while, I advise you to start with low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming or biking. Start slow. Something is better than nothing. But if you feel dizzy, faint, or you’re in pain, stop immediately and talk with your doctor. When you are at a point where you are no longer challenged by the five-a-week plan, you can add more time to each routine, add more intense exercises to the routine (i.e. aerobics), or make your existing exercises more rigorous (e.g. walking faster and further). The five-a-week plan is effective because it makes exercise a part of your daily routine—more of a habit than a chore—instead of something you will do if time permits. This helps prevent the “I’ll do it tomorrow” mentality.
Tips to motivate and reward yourselfTechnology can also keep you locked in the habit of exercising. Fit trackers and exercise apps can make exercise fun and competitive, even if you are just competing with yourself. Also, now that television itself has become an on-demand service, you don’t have to watch your favorite shows when they air. For example, you can record afternoon shows to watch later that day or night – after you exercise of course. Or, you can walk in place in front of the tv, and combine getting healthy and getting the news or watching your soaps. A rewards system is also a great motivating agent. For example, if you meet or exceed your weekly or monthly exercise goals, reward yourself with a massage, weekend getaway, date night, a bouquet of flowers, new clothes, a day off work, and more. A simple Google search of exercise rewards yields many creative ideas. However, I do advise against rewarding yourself with indulgent food. A treat now and then is OK—everyone needs an occasional “cheat day” as long as you don’t go overboard—but an unhealthy reward for healthy habits is counterproductive and sends the wrong signal. The key is to avoid being sedentary for long periods of time. If you are watching a show, walk around the house during commercials. If you sit at a desk for long periods of your day, get up and walk around the office every hour. Even better, walk outside and get some natural vitamin D from the sun! Now go out and fill that prescription!
- “Exercise: The Miracle Cure and the Role of Doctors in Promoting It.” Academy of Royal Medical Colleges. Published February 2015.