This is part 1 in a 3-part series on how to exercise smarter and not harder.
As a nutritionist, most people believe that when they work with me I’ll only tell them what foods to eat and how many calories or grams of carbs to eat per day. They hope that I will give them a magic food formula. If you read my Ditch your Diet post, you know that it’s not as simple as a first grade math problem. I tend to surprise my clients because I practice holistic nutrition. Holistic nutrition means I base my recommendations on the person as whole, not just the food they eat. Besides dietary factors, I also look at lifestyle factors such as sleep, exercise and stress management. Most people will not be successful in their pursuit of optimal health unless they address all of these issues. It’s like a multi-piece jigsaw puzzle, you achieve true success when all the pieces fit together.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.” or “Abs are made in the kitchen.” I don’t like either of these sayings for many reasons, the main one being that if you focus on achieving optimal health, your weight will normalize as a result. Think of your body like car. You can’t just put gas in it and expect it to run at peak performance. While some of us do this, we know it’s not optimal. There are many other factors like changing the oil, washing it and buying new tires that must be performed in order to keep it running like new.
The funny thing is that if you ask an average trainer at a globo gym like 24-hour Fitness or even a Crossfit gym, they will probably tell you that weight loss or “getting lean” is 80% exercise and 20% nutrition. The more you exercise, the more calories you will burn and as a result, you will lose weight. It’s all about the burn. The more you beat yourself down, the more weight you will lose. We’ve all seen those Facebook pics with an unbelievable number of calories someone burned on the elliptical machine. We’ve even heard of the Crossfit story of the killer 45-minute WOD that left them unable to get up off the floor or walk the next day. We constantly hear all about the calorie burn and calorie deficit on The Biggest Loser every darn week, so it must be true, right?
Most of you will be surprised to hear (and happy no doubt) that you probably don’t need to exercise more – you need to exercise smart. How do I know this? I went to nutrition school and I don’t have any fitness credentials whatsoever. When I give my clients fitness recommendations, I know they must think I’m crazy because it flies in the face of everything they have been told. Because I’m “just a nutritionist” I think it’s easy for them to just nod and then continue with their current exercise program. Returning later wondering why they didn’t get the results they wanted only following some of my recommendations. Remember the puzzle? All the pieces must fit together.
I’ve based my recommendations on years of studying, researching and attending countless fitness and nutrition conferences. I’ve met trainers who focus not only on exercise but on diet and lifestyle as well. I guess you could consider them holistic trainers. They have great success getting clients healthy and fit. Some of them include Jim Laird, Sarah and John Fragoso (Sarah Fragoso and JS Strength & Conditioning), Jason Seib (AltShift Diet, The Paleo Coach), my personal trainer Alyssa Sulay from Catalyst Athletics, Ally Sharpe, Molly Galbraith from Girls Gone Strong and Lucy Hendricks.
OMG, that’s a lot of trainers! And wouldn’t you know it, only one (Alyssa) works anywhere remotely near where I live. If you are at all interested in fitness like me, I encourage each and every one of you to follow their work. They are absolutely amazing!
So what do I recommend? I’ve compiled an “exercise smarter” list starting with most important.
How to exercise smarter by WALKING:
Every good fitness program starts with walking. Walking is by far the most under-rated and under-utilized form of exercise. You don’t sweat, you don’t huff and puff, so how can it be the best exercise? Did you know when you walk at your normal pace, it is just the right amount of exertion so that your body burns fat for fuel? (1). I think most of us have some excess fat we’d like to burn!
Walking reduces stress (2). If you have high stress levels, your body actually thinks something cataclysmic is around the corner that it will need energy for. Imagine a saber toothed tiger chasing you. Your body in its wisdom, hoards calories in the form of fat for later use in this aforementioned chase. By reducing stress, your body can more easily part with that stored fat!
Walking also helps regulate your wake-sleep cycle. Walking outside in the sun lets your body know that it’s day time. It regulates your circadian rhythm so you’ll get better sleep at night (3). A cascade effect: better sleep equals less stress, which equals better health, which equals better body composition!
You want to know the best thing about walking? It can be absolutely free! No gym membership required! Of course, I live in sunny California so it might be a bit easier for me. I suggest to all my clients to get outside and walk on every day the weather permits.
How much do you need to walk? I recommend 30 to 60 minutes per day every day. But if you can’t fit that in, ANY amount will help. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up. Set a timer on your computer to get up every 15 minutes and walk around your desk, park further away, take the stairs, walk to the store or get up every TV commercial and walk around. All those cheesy things we’ve heard over the years really work!
Many people have fitness trackers like a FitBit to track how many steps they walk each day. These work great keeping people on track and accountable. It can also enable some healthy competition between friends. Another bonus, it works as a sleep tracker as well. I have one myself and love it. Just don’t let it take over your life! If you walk without your FitBit, it still counts as walking!
There you have it, my first tips on how to exercise smarter not harder. Stay tuned next week for the next set of recommendations in part 2 in this series…