It's spring, when a young - or not - person's fancy turns to weight loss

May 19, 1998|By Lynn F. Little

Spring is here in all its green and flowering abundance. Winter wardrobes are being put away to make room for a lightweight summer one. As you check the fit of summer clothes, the need for increasing exercise and losing weight may begin to dominate your thoughts. Where do you begin?

The first step for many adults is to make an appointment for a physical exam. Before embarking on a new exercise and weight-loss program, you should consult your physician and have your planned program approved.

Options for exercise are many and don't necessarily need to include expensive health club memberships. Many aerobic exercises can be accomplished in your own neighborhood or at a community recreation center. These exercises include walking, running, swimming, racquetball, tennis, karate or dance.

Participating in these exercises as little as 20 to 30 minutes, three or more times a week, will improve your cardiovascular health. Choose an activity that appeals to you and you will be more likely to stick with it longer and enjoy it more.


Try to plan a specific time to do the activity each day, a time just for you. A structured class environment may be the best approach if discipline is a problem for you. Another suggestion is to find a partner who is willing to join you in the activity. Together you can give each other support and encouragement when the "blahs" strike and you just don't feel like exercising anymore.

It is not necessary to overwork yourself in order to improve your health and fitness. In fact, you will be more likely to continue exercising if you don't have to suffer for several days after each workout. However, if your muscles haven't been challenged in a while, you may notice some muscle tenderness as they gradually get back into shape.

Exercise helps

An exercise program will make it easier to shed unwanted pounds. Moderate exercise burns calories, improves circulation and creates a general sense of well-being without over stimulating the appetite. However, exercise by itself is not enough. Cutting calories is an essential part of any weight-loss program.

An abundance of commercial diet programs are available to consumers. These programs may provide the discipline and support you need, but they are also expensive and often lacking in professional guidance. They all require the purchase of prepackaged foods or multivitamin or mineral supplements that are not included in the price of the program.

Starvation and liquid diets should be avoided or used only under a physician's supervision. Diets that stress the consumption of large amounts of specific foods, such as the "grapefruit" or "Popsicle" diets, or promote one nutrient at the expense of others, such as "high protein, low carbohydrate" diets, should be avoided.

The best diet is one that fosters long-term modification of your eating habits, includes the appropriate number of servings from all the food groups, and provides a method of group support. Several low cost programs are available nationally. A local registered dietitian also can design a diet specifically for your personal needs. However, this can be expensive if not covered by your health insurance.

Once you have begun your exercise and weight-loss program, try not to weigh yourself more than once a week. A weekly weigh-in will give you a realistic picture of your progress without leading to the discouragement caused by normal daily weight fluctuation. Don't be surprised if you start to feel and look thinner but the scale doesn't show it. You may be increasing your muscle mass while decreasing your fat as a result of your exercise efforts. Muscle tissue is heavier than fat, so weight loss can sometimes be deceptive.

Set realistic goals for yourself. Safe weight loss is generally considered to be one or two pounds per week. Remember it took a while to gain that weight - it may take a while to lose it, as well. Just keep in mind that you are giving up your excess fat for better muscle tone, improved functioning of your heart and circulatory system and improved self-esteem. In time, you can reach your weight loss goals.

Maryland Cooperative Extension Service's programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator, family and consumer sciences for University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

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