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Exercise for Beginners

Q: I need to lose about 50 pounds. I want to start exercising, but I just don’t know what kind of schedule to follow. My friend says I should work out 40 minutes daily or it doesn’t count. So how much should I exercise? - Couch Potato in Virginia

A: Well, it depends on who you ask: The Institute of Medicine released a report in 2003 telling us to exercise a full hour each day is what it takes to manage our weight; for years we heard we needed 30 minutes day for four or five days per week; and of course, the Surgeon General’s advice from a few years back that a half hour each day would do the trick?

Brother, Can You Spare an Hour?

My advice? Do what you can to start with and when you can do more, stick with it. One of the most sure-fire ways to give up on an exercise program is to make it so inconvenient that it’s downright unachievable. Not many of us can devote a full hour every single day to exercising. It’s just not practical.

The Middle of the Road

The experts at the American College of Sports Medicine have stood by their suggestion for years: 30 minutes of moderate activity most (not all) days of the week.

Why does this work? It’s just enough exercise to help you maintain a healthy weight and still have some days to rest and recuperate. The worst thing you can do when starting out to exercise is to get burned out. Committing to a lengthy workout every day without any time off is an easy way for this to happen.

Only Half of the Puzzle

To be fair, I have to mention that exercise alone doesn’t usually achieve long-term weight loss when you have a significant amount pounds to peel off. You really need to consider your diet, too. Exercise alone won’t lead to your shedding major poundage if you have poor eating habits and you continue to follow them.

To be a successful "loser" it comes down to calories: spending more and eating less. It’s a combination of these factors that will result in a significant enough calorie deficit to lead to the kind of success you want.

Avoid a Beginner’s Blunder

But what if you’re a weight loss newbie? What if you’ve never worked out a moment in your life? Those 30 minutes can seem downright daunting. Perhaps if you are just now dealing with your weight issues as an adult, you haven’t exercised since PE in elementary school. (Yours truly couldn’t even say that! I was one the kids with a note every week!)

Don’t let yourself fall into the thinking that if you can’t devote 30 full minutes to working out that you shouldn’t even bother. Sure, 30 minutes may be ideal, but that doesn't mean less than that is worthless.

Try exercising for 10 minutes today and add 5 minute increments until you work up to 30. This may mean something as simple as parking further away at work or walking a circuit through part of the mall before your Saturday shopping spree. Do what works for you.

The Bottom Line

The truth is, there is no magic number when it comes to how much is enough exercise. Just like no fantastic pill will ever exist to get us to our weight goals. And no diet will make losing weight effortless.

Your friend’s idea isn’t fair: In the long run, all exercise “counts”! (Some exercise is better than being a full-time couch potato, right?!) Don’t hold yourself to impossible goals or beat yourself up for not meeting someone else’s idea of what is good enough. Find what works for you. If you stick to it, you will see a little bit really can go a long way.

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