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Ester Marsh: No excuses: Choose an exercise plan and stick with it

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ou are ready to get “on the exercise wagon” again, but what should you start with and why should you?

Unfortunately, most readers know how it feels to start, stop and restart an exercise program. Same as yo-yo dieting — lose weight, gain weight, lose weight, etc. — yo-yo exercising is a challenge, too. As I have mentioned before, you are better off working out three times a week than five to seven days a week for a month, quitting and starting back who knows when (probably January …).

You need to look at exercising as part of your healthy lifestyle. I promise you, many of our very dedicated members who come regularly for many years do not like to exercise! However, they love the way exercise makes them look and feel. So instead of thinking “I don’t like to exercise” or “I can’t do those exercises,” exercise because it’s part of being healthy; choose exercises that work with your body and fitness level. Anyone can do exercises, no matter what limitations you have. When we have people come to the YMCA who are wheelchair bound and need assistance to perform their exercise routine but still do it, you can do it, too. As we read and hear all the time, our society is becoming very unhealthy and obese.

When certain risk factors occur together, the American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute have diagnosed criteria that make up metabolic syndrome (MetS). Anyone who falls within these criteria has a higher risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes (type 2). Your doctor diagnoses and identifies at least three of the five following criteria to establish MetS:

1. Increased waist circumference. Men greater than 40 inches and women greater than 35 inches

2. Elevated blood pressure. Equal to or greater than 130/85

3. Blood glucose (blood sugar). Have fasting glucose readings equal or greater than 100mg/dL

4. Triglycerides level. Levels equal to or greater than 150mg/dL

5. Low high density lipoprotein cholesterol (low levels of good cholesterol). Men less than 40mg/dL and women less than 50mg/dL

If you take medicine for three or more of these to control your levels, you still are considered as having the criteria for metabolic syndrome.

So if the statement above is not a good reason to exercise, I don’t know what else could be. Many of the people I have worked with were able to come off medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure or insulin when they started exercising regularly and lost weight. At any time check and work with your doctor; sometimes it’s unlikely someone can come off certain medications due to heredity or other reasons than obesity and/or inactivity.

I hope I have convinced you to start, but now what? Check with your doctor first, make sure that he or she knows your plans and ask them for guidance. I have never met a doctor who has said “do not exercise.” Typically the doctor would recommend starting with walking exercises and maybe water exercises — baby steps. It took you a while to get out of shape; give your body time to get back into shape. An easy weightlifting program is also recommended.

Weightlifting programs or resistance training have been shown to improve blood sugar levels without changing the diet (and yes, you still need to change your diet). Such programs also have been shown to work positively on decreasing the waist circumference. So if you would start today with me or any of my wonderful staff and you have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or are starting from zero and have the “go ahead to exercise” from your doctor, a routine would include:

• Warm up for about five minutes on a piece of cardio equipment that is suitable for you such as a treadmill, upright bike, recumbent bike or Nustep.

• A resistance training program that consists of one exercise per muscle group — one chest, one back, two legs (front and back), one bicep, one triceps, one shoulder exercise. We would focus on technique and core stabilization during these exercises. (Yes, your abdominal exercises will come later … good posture and core stabilization — “not letting it hang out” — is a lot more effective.) We would start with one set of 10 repetitions with a weight that is about 30 percent to 40 percent of your one rep max. (If you could do 100 pounds, we would start with 30-40 pounds; we do not test the one rep max because typically it makes someone very sore especially when they are inactive. We start light and work our way up slowly.)

• Finish with a good stretching session at the end stretching all the muscles groups worked that day.

At the next workout we would increase the cardio piece of the workout. Some people like to do it all before their resistance training; others still like the five-minute warm up and finish with cardio at the end, before stretching.

Slow and steady is the key. Give your body a chance to adapt before you add or change things in your workout routine. Even when your muscles can handle a lot more, your tendons have to get used to the workout. Too heavy too soon will definitely set you up for tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons). Start with three days a week and see if you can work yourself up to five or six days. Forty-five minutes to an hour of quality workout is a lot better than two hours of a low quality workout (lots of rest, low intensity, below target heart rate, etc).

We are ready for you now! Don’t wait till January to start!

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director for the JF Hurley YMCA.

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