Fabulous reader enc is a fitness instructor. She is also one of my favorite human beings, so when I found myself mulling over some exercise-specific questions, I knew I could ask her. And I knew she wouldn’t laugh at me, and that she’d give me thoughtful, comprehensible answers.
What I DIDN’T know is that she’d poll some of the fitness and health experts in HER life to give me multi-perspective answers to all of my niggling questions. And the reply she gave me was so fascinating and enlightening, that I just had to share. With enc‘s permission, of course!
SAL: Isn’t ALL exercise beneficial? If I were to chuck the weights and just bike for an hour every day, would I be healthy? Is it really important to work as many muscle groups as possible, watch your anaerobic threshold, and all that if you’re not trying to TONE?
ENC: It depends on what your goals are. If you had previously been completely sedentary, and now you’re taking 30-minute walks every day, then yes, that exercise is beneficial. But is that really all you want to achieve? I think also that each person needs to know why they’re trying to “get in shape.” I find the best results come to those who want to “live longer,” or “be healthy” versus “fit into a smaller size of jeans.” The “whys” really influence the results.
The marathon runner is going to have different goals from the competitive bodybuilder. The swimmer is going to have different goals from the bikini model, and the martial artist is going to have different goals from the competitive cyclist. And all these people will have different goals from the 35-year-old woman who wants to lose ten pounds/drop a size, and tone up her general look. So it’s important to look at who you are and what you really want to accomplish. Then it helps to set specific goals and specific time periods in which to achieve those goals. Time-frames and goals allow for a sense of accomplishment, which is important to building confidence and self-esteem in a person. I know this from personal experience.
Here’s some input from my friend Leslie (she’s over 50), who mentored me in Group Exercise instruction and who has been designing Group Exercise curriculum for years:
“As far as weights, they are essential to support bone density for women as we age. So weight lifting is the best way to keep up with it. Yoga, pressing body weight, is another alternative to this as well but there haven’t been any studies I’m aware of that indicate it works as well as weight lifting. But once we hit 50, our body doesn’t take in calcium as well, so weight lifting is the way around that.”
In the end analysis, the most beneficial exercise is the one you will do, so if all else fails, do something. But, as females, we should all be concerned with bone density and how we eat. Lifting weights a couple of times a week and eating a sensible diet being mindful of how many calories are needed in a day is a good lifestyle.
SAL: I’m especially interested in this as it applies to weight loss. A makeover client of mine teaches here at the U and has studied the long-term effectiveness of diets. She’s found that dieting just messes you up, and the only way to truly lose weight long-term is to find exercise you love and do it.
ENC: I sort of agree with this, because doing exercise we love is the only way we’ll keep at it. Regular exercise will take some weight off, it’s true, but we can do more. If we do the exercise, and don’t see the weight loss results we want, it’s time to address food and eating habits.
I think what we eat, as well as how much we eat – and how often – is important. Each person needs to find what works for them. For some people, three squares is how they operate best. For others, grazing throughout the day is the answer. Of course, the old chestnut of burning more calories than one eats applies. For me, it’s been the only way.
I think the word “dieting” is dangerous; it is fraught, and the act of dieting just puts a Band-Aid on a problem. Nobody can keep up a “diet.” We all return to our regular eating habits after awhile when we think of what we’re doing as “dieting.” I think it’s important to look at changing one’s eating habits for a lifetime of healthy living. I think we need to analyze what we’re eating and ask a really tough question of everything we put in our mouths: “What are you doing for me?” If something is devoid of nutritional value, I don’t want to eat it.
If you’re after general good health, then do a little bit of everything—this is the reason trainers have us doing so many things. It’s to address all our general health needs. Once you’re in general good health, then you can start winnowing down the focus. If you want to run a marathon, maybe you’ll run more than you’ll lift. If you want to compete as a bodybuilder, you’ll do more lifting than cardio. If you want to lose body fat, you will want to do a little bit of everything: some cardio, lift some weights, and of course, you’ll relegate Ding Dongs to the Infrequently-Eaten Treat Menu 😉
I’ve been lifting weights for many, many years. The years that it’s toned my arms, I’ve really enjoyed it. Years like this one – in which I’ve gained muscle mass, but it’s masked by fat – I get frustrated and want to flick it in. But honestly? I had NO IDEA about the bone density thing. None! And I like my bones dense, people. So I’ll keep on keepin’ on, now a little wiser.
Image courtesy handles.