It’s coming—that time of year when merriment and a long to-do list take a major bite out of both leisure time and energy. Exercise is often sacrificed as the holiday season builds, but Luke Carlson of Discover Strength says you can have a happier and healthier holiday season by not skipping the workout.
Start by managing your expectations. “When the message is that you need to exercise more and more, and we struggle and fall short of that, we get discouraged,” Carlson says. “The researchers say that we can reach tremendous shape in terms of muscle strength, endurance and body composition with only two or three workouts per week, of just 20–30 minutes each. So, really, one strength-training workout and one to two cardiovascular exercise sessions a week will protect us from chronic disease, as well as make us feel better.”
For a typical cardio session, Carlson recommends starting with a five-minute warm-up, followed by a 15- to 20-minute workout. “A warm-up is nothing more than the same activity we are going to do at a lower level of intensity. If you are going for a walk, run or jog, just start out slower. During the warm-up, we might be talking and joking, but when we are really working out, we might be getting a word out here or there, but not a constant stream of conversation. If we can’t talk at all, we are probably working harder than we need to. Then we finish with a three- to five-minute cool down.”
Carlson calls this kind of workout a “steady-state” cardio regimen. An alternative is an “interval regimen,” in which, after a warm-up, a person works very hard/fast for one minute, then goes easy for two minutes, repeating six times (or try intervals of 30 seconds high intensity with one minute recovery in between six to eight times.) “The research shows this is incredibly effective for preventing cardiovascular disease, improving fitness and burning calories,” Carlson says, “and most people report enjoying it more [than a steady-state workout].”
Don’t forget about your strength training. It doesn’t just make you stronger, Carlson says, “It is phenomenal for the cardiovascular system and the metabolic system.” Fit in 15 to 30 minutes of resistance training one to two times per week. Perform eight to 12 exercises focusing on different muscle groups. The goal is to reach “volitional fatigue,” or the point where you simply cannot lift the weight one more time. You don’t have to use a heavy weight, but for time effectiveness, Carlson suggests selecting a weight that has you reaching volitional fatigue within eight to 12 repetitions. If time really is pressing, focus on strength.
“Researcher Barbara Strasser performed a massive literature review and found strength training is just as effective as cardiovascular exercise at preventing heart disease,” Carlson says. “That doesn’t mean it is more important, but if you have to choose just one workout, choose resistance, because there are many more benefits.”
Plymouth resident LuAnn Svendsen trains weekly at Discover Strength and walks outdoors or on a treadmill a couple of times a week. “As it gets busy and we have more social obligations and preparations, it is so easy to let exercise slide. We do the urgent thing rather than the important thing, and it is such a mistake,” she says. “As an aging woman, I have to keep up with the strength training to stay even and hopefully improve ... that sense of accomplishment and wellbeing is so important.”
Your workout time can reduce your holiday stress, increase your feeling of wellbeing and keep you healthy, but be warned that one possible side effect of working out isn’t good for you. “People who work out tend to eat more and make worse choices, overestimating the calories we’ve burned,” Carlson cautions. Give yourself a gift of quick workouts and smart nutritional choices, and you might enter 2015 healthier than you are now.
Always see a doctor to determine your fitness ability level prior to starting a new diet or exercise regimen.
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