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Looking to get fit in the New Year? Iowa State fitness experts offer advice
AMES, Iowa -- According to the National Institutes of Health, the average yearly weight gain for adults is two pounds -- with one of those pounds coming during the holiday season. That leaves many people vowing to shape up in the New Year.
While the holiday season may not be the best time to begin a brand-new fitness program, Iowa State University fitness experts say it shouldn't be a total obstacle, either.
"If your goal is to lose weight during the holiday season, the holidays are not a good time to initiate a new fitness program because of its added stress," said Warren Franke, professor of kinesiology and director of ISU's Exercise Clinic. "A short-term goal for beginners should be just to make it through the holidays without putting on additional weight. Build efficiencies into your day such as taking the stairs or taking advantage of farther away parking spots."
"When setting goals, focus on getting health benefits from staying active, whether it be sleeping better, having more energy, feeling good or enjoyment," said Gregory Welk, an associate professor of kinesiology.
Welk says the goal should be to accumulate 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
"Some people have the erroneous assumption that you have to go to a gym, sweat, and breathe really hard, but the actual research shows that moderate intensity activity, such as walking, is sufficient for health benefits," he said. "It's also the best level of intensity for people seeking weight loss. It doesn't matter what you do, it's just important to do something."
National Physical Activity Guidelines
In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the National Physical Activity Guidelines, which provide Americans with strategies to improve fitness and gain health benefits (www.health.gov/paguidelines). The report states that while 30 minutes of physical activity per day may not be enough to improve overall fitness, it's enough to gain health benefits. The weight loss guidelines encourage a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a day in order to burn more calories than you take in.
But Welk points out that it's not all about staying slim and trim.
"A lot of people assume that you have to get thin before you gain health benefits from physical activity, and that's not true," he said. "If you're thin and inactive, you're not safe from health problems. If you're active and overweight, you're at lower risk of getting chronic diseases."
"Try to have an appropriate emphasis on cardiovascular training," said Franke. "An emphasis on cardio helps reduce risk for diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and heart disease."
When it comes to overall fitness, it may be more important to use weights than lose weight. The ISU experts agree that strength training promotes physical fitness because it helps to prevent osteoporosis, increase bone mineral density and build muscle as the body ages.
Franke suggests using free weights to gain the maximum benefits in strength training.
"Free weights are more effective because they force you to use your secondary muscles that help move your primary muscles," said Franke. "Weight machines lock you in motions of what the machine dictates to you, while using free weights requires you to use your balance, which maximizes your strength training."
For people who dread the winter weather and how it drives them indoors, Franke encourages using the indoors to their fitness advantage.
"Really try new things," he said. "I suggest finding ways to mix cardiovascular training with strength training. Take an aerobics class, get a personal trainer, check out fitness tapes, download new music or podcasts and look into punch cards at fitness centers to help get through the yucky weather season."
Technology can cure indoor fitness blues
Technology also affords other forms of indoor activity.
"The Nintendo Wii Fit is a really cool toy with a big balance component," said Franke. "The best part about the game is that it makes exercise fun, making you more likely to do it. While the game does get you moving, it should not be your only form of physical activity."
"I think Dance Dance Revolution provides some meaningful aerobic activity," said Welk. "I don't think the Wii Fit provides as much physical activity and may be just another reason kids stay inside instead of going outside to play."
In spite of the winter weather, Welk encourages people to get some fresh air outside, when they can, as part of their daily activity.
And for those vowing to become more fit in the New Year, Franke recommends they take it one day at a time and not expect too much, too fast.
"Obviously, life happens and things come up that may prevent you from doing your work out or cause you to stray away from your diet, but always try to have good intentions," he said.
"The best exercise is the one you'll do," said Welk. "The best exercise is the one you like."
Warren Franke and Gregory Welk, two Iowa State kinesiology professors, offer tips to people who vow to shape up in the New Year.
"Some people have the erroneous assumption that you have to go to a gym, sweat, and breathe really hard, but the actual research shows that moderate intensity activity, such as walking, is sufficient for health benefits. It's also the best level of intensity for people seeking weight loss. It doesn't matter what you do, it's just important to do something."