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Exercising to Lose 10 to 20 Pounds

Richard B. Parr, EdD


With all those low-fat, low-calorie foods to choose from and more health clubs available than ever before, you're still carrying a few extra pounds? You and more than half the country! Most Americans struggle with their weight, and many diet to lose weight.

The key to dropping those 10 to 20 extra pounds is making simple lifestyle changes. Of course, that's easy enough to say. Busy people face a number of obstacles to following a healthy diet and exercise plan, like eating a lot of restaurant meals and convenience foods and lacking time to exercise (only 1 in 10 Americans follows a consistent exercise program). But you can take many small steps to healthy living that can add up to one substantial weight-loss stride.

The pivotal trait for success? Consistency. Weight loss is best achieved by making long-term changes in diet and exercise that become part of a healthy lifestyle. Small changes that cause few disruptions in life are more sustainable and more likely to help you keep those unwanted pounds from returning home to roost.

Below are creative ways to modify your diet and physical activity. Monitoring your diet and exercise achievements in a diary can help you keep up the fight over the long haul.

Good Diet Decisions

Losing weight is a matter of mathematics. You simply need to burn more calories than you take in, thereby creating what scientists call a calorie deficit.

Many people can lose 10 to 20 pounds simply by closely monitoring their eating style. Consistently cutting out high-fat snacks and desserts, eating more fruits and vegetables, and taking smaller portions may provide the calorie deficit you need to balance your weight-control budget.

Further eating tips are provided in table 1. These steps alone may help you lose your excess pounds as you reinvent a healthy lifestyle. You may, however, need the structure provided by a low-calorie diet.

Table 1. Dietary Awareness Checklist

Replace "full"-calorie food with low-calorie options (skim milk vs whole milk, low-calorie dressing vs high-calorie dressing)

Replace high-calorie condiments with low-calorie choices (mustard instead of mayonnaise, salsa instead of cream-based sauces)

Choose small servings (large portions may contain twice the calories)

Eat "slow-down" foods (for example, an orange instead of orange juice)

Drink lots of water and skim milk; replace sodas with diet sodas (20% of calories typically come from liquids)

Follow a daily food plan (impulsive choices tend to be high in calories)

Properly designed low-calorie diets (1,200 calories per day) provide adequate nutrients and are effective for moderate weight loss. Equally important, they include enough food to keep you from feeling starved—and to keep your body's metabolic rate from falling. With very low-calorie—or "starvation"—diets, the rate at which the body burns calories while at rest (its resting metabolic rate) drops significantly, which means weight loss slows, too. See your doctor or dietitian for a diet that's right for you.

An Excellent Exercise Adventure

Exercise provides a number of health benefits (see "What You Win When You Slim" on the next page). Physical activity burns calories and helps maintain muscle mass while decreasing fat. (Maintaining muscle mass is important for a stable metabolic rate.) Exercise also improves self-esteem, which may help you stick with your healthy lifestyle habits. Finally, physical activity helps you feel better regardless of how much weight you lose.

For your weight-loss workout, choose an activity or activities that you enjoy most. Options like walking, bicycling, aerobic dancing, stair climbing, golf, tennis, jogging, and swimming are all great. Walking is a good option for many people, and it's inexpensive and readily available to most.

The overall exercise goal for weight loss is straightforward: Increase total calories burned each day. As an example, the average adult burns 100 calories by walking 1 mile (or 20 minutes). That means that previously inactive people can lose 1 pound a month simply by walking 20 minutes each day without increasing their calorie intake. Remember that any activity that burns calories should be considered as exercise (table 2).

Table 2. Activity Awareness Checklist

Use stairs instead of an elevator or escalator

Park your car and walk

Walk or bike to the mailbox, grocery store, or on other short errands

Add activity at work by walking when possible

Walk at least 30 to 60 minutes a day

Consider any increase in daily activities as building your exercise program

Carry items up or down stairs several times daily rather than let them accumulate for one trip

To burn more calories, those who currently exercise 3 days a week should try adding a fourth day, exercising longer each day, or doing both. In addition to your planned daily exercise and healthy diet, you can lose extra pounds by adding more physical activity in general to your lifestyle.

Weight Loss All Over

Gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week increases the odds of keeping weight off a long time because of the healthy behavior patterns you develop. In addition, the weight loss tends to be primarily fat, with little loss of muscle mass.

If you've heard of exercises that supposedly shave off pounds in a given body area—called "spot reducing"—forget about them. Spot reducing is not possible because calories are taken from fat stores throughout the body, not just from the area being exercised.

The amount you lose in any given area depends on how much is there in the first place. If you tend to put fat on the hips more than any other area, you will lose more fat from the hips. When you exercise a particular area of the body, the underlying muscle becomes more firm and may give the appearance of decreased weight, but the changes are related to muscle development.

Insistence on Persistence

Few people lose weight without occasional periods of discouragement and frustration. Create an attitude of persistence during times that you reach a weight plateau. In addition, some people benefit from the motivation provided by weight-loss support groups like Weight Watchers and TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly). Exercise, like a healthy diet, is a lifestyle adaptation that should persist throughout life.

What You Win When You Slim

Do you need motivation to lose weight, beyond the fact that you'll feel better? Obesity has been defined as being 20% over your ideal weight. It is classified as a disease because it increases the risk of developing heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Being 15% to 20% overweight also carries increased health risk when accompanied by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, or an inactive lifestyle.

The best way to prevent the complications of being obese or overweight, then, is to lose extra weight before it becomes a health risk. The benefits of losing 10 to 20 pounds include a lower risk of non-insulin-dependent (type II) diabetes, lower cholesterol, and decreased blood pressure.

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.

Dr Parr is a professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Rehabilitation at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. He is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.




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