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Surrounded by holiday treats? Let your exercise work for you - Fitness series part 2

written by Jody Miller, M.A., RCEP
on Monday, 9th December ,2013

The holiday season can be a great time of year – vacations, gifts, family time… but not so great for the waistline.  A healthy weight person gains about 1 pound and those already overweight can gain five pounds or more. Though less than the 7-10 pound gain previously believed to occur, the downside is that that the weight gained over the holidays doesn’t seem to be lost over the course of the next year. Rather, it adds up and could be a contributing factor in steady adult weight gain over one's lifespan.

Not just over the holidays but all year long, cardiovascular exercise is key to offsetting excess caloric intake, and critical to “training” our metabolism and keeping our heart healthy. Aerobic exercise, or “cardio” as we often call it, is any type of steady physical activity or movement using the large muscle groups of the body. Physical activity creates a demand on the heart to pump at higher rates than when we are sedentary. It also requires energy (calories) to perform the movements, providing a great way to manage body weight.

Heart Health
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Regular aerobic exercise benefits the heart and cardiovascular system in many ways. Aside from weight management purposes, consider some form of “cardio” on most days of the week  to improve your heart health. Cardio exercise can increase “good” cholesterol levels (HDL), improve blood flow and circulation, increase stamina, help to lower blood pressure, ease depression and decrease your risk for dementia. The American Heart Association and and Sports Medicine Guidelines are listed below.

Metabolic Conditioning
An additional benefit of cardio exercise is improving the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. Athletes focus on this aspect of cardiovascular exercise in order to help them train optimally for their sport and be in the best physical condition to compete. But you don’t have to be a competitive athlete to benefit from metabolic conditioning. The better the body can utilize oxygen, the better it can burn calories! You may recall the reports of how much food Michael Phelps was eating for breakfast prior to competition - a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, pound of bacon, etc… This is attributable to his incredibly high metabolic state, measured as oxygen consumption (ml O2 kg/min or METS). Most of us would never be able to eat that much in one sitting without weight gain, but when you exercise frequently, and metabolism is high and efficient, the body is able to burn every calorie consumed without excess to store as fat.  

Calorie Value of Physical Activity
A strong motivator for engaging in cardio exercise is knowing how many calories are being burned during that activity. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as calories in vs. calories out, but caloric expenditure can certainly be used as a guideline. A couple of reliable sources for calculating caloric expenditure are:



It can be a great learning tool to log on and input your activity to get a general idea of how many calories you are burning during exercise. Use that information to help you optimize your exercise plan and ward off holiday weight gain.

The colder weather, fewer daylight hours, and extra daily demands of the holidays, no doubt, impact our exercise time. Even the avid exerciser will find themselves sleeping in an extra thirty minutes, or opting out of a run because it’s already dark at 5pm. Keeping to a consistent exercise plan is even more challenging when you don’t have a routine already in place, and/or you simply hate to exercise.

Try some of these suggestions to help keep you on track:
• First and foremost… find an activity that you like to do!
• Mix it up. Do different activities on different days.
• Pick a regular time of day for cardio so that you can establish a routine.
• Listen to your body – don’t push yourself if you feel strain or pain.
• Re-frame how you view exercise by reminding yourself that cardio will help you to stay healthy, and that you deserve to feel good!
• Track your activity for great reinforcement.
• Seek support from an Exercise Professional to help you progress and optimize the benefits.
• Most importantly… avoid inactivity…KEEP MOVING!

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
(adapted – aerobic activity listed only…for more information visit www.acsm.org/physicalactivity)

No Chronic Conditions
--Adults (18-64)
150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity*, or
75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity** aerobic physical activity
Follow the adult guidelines, or be as physically active as possible. Avoid inactivity.

Chronic Conditions
--Adults (18-64)
Develop activity plan with your health care professional. Be as physically active as possible.
--Adults (65+)
Develop activity plan with your health care professional.

For additional health benefits and/or weight loss – increase the above to more than 150 and up to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise

*Moderate-intensity physical activity means working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still be able to carry on a conversation.
**Vigorous-intensity physical activity causes rapid breathing and a substantial increase in heart rate.

For individual questions you may contact Jody Miller at jody@changeyourmindchangeyourbody.net, or 301-299-6586.

Fitness Series submitted by Jody Miller, RCEP
Women’s Health & Support Services
December 2013

This is Blog Two of a series started in October addressing the 5 key areas of FITNESS.
Blog One highlighted Joint Range of Motion and Muscular Flexibility. Future Blogs will cover the topics of Body Composition, Muscular Strength and Endurance, and Energy Balance and Behavioral Nutrition Health.

Tags: cardio, calories, metabolic conditioning, heart health

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