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Embrace exercise as a lifestyle in the New Year
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Embrace exercise as a lifestyle in the New Year

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Now that the holidays have passed, we enter one of my favorites, the “OMG I need to lose weight” season.

That’s right. The cakes, candies, eggnog and homemade breads have finished doing their annual damage to our bodies, and now it’s time for that yearly crusade of restoring the waistline back to its proper size. The question often raised at this point is how? What is the best way for me to get back in shape? And so the argument begins.

Personally, I have never been a fan of dieting. I enjoy eating way too much for that nonsense. My thought has always been, if I can put on the extra pounds all by myself without any help, I should be responsible enough to take it off also. So that leaves us with ... yes, that dirty word, exercise.

Indeed, there are a variety of outdoor aerobic activities that will help trim down that waistline. According to statistics from the NPD Group, the trendiest of those choices happens to be biking and paddling activities. Sales for both of these sports increased by 60% just this past year.

However, we are moving into the cold dead of winter, and only the most hardcore of outdoor enthusiasts will be found cycling or yakking, which leaves us with the choices I call the “trinity of outdoor exercise.”

Every year The Outdoor Foundation publishes “The Outdoor Participation Report.” In it you will find a statistical analysis of how Americans spend their outdoor recreational time. It should be no surprise to anyone that running, walking and hiking are consistently at, or near the top of this list.

The question remaining then is which of these three will yield me the most benefits in getting back in shape? In answering that question it is important that we keep in mind what Mark Twain once said: “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”

In the most general terms, running or jogging will burn off more calories than either walking or hiking. This is statistically true. But can you get a better aerobic or even a better cardio workout walking or hiking than you can running? Sure you can. How can that be possible?

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Look at it this way: I can take a 30-minute run around my neighborhood today, get a good aerobic exercise and burn off a few calories. Tomorrow I can strap on my boots and blaze 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Catawba to Troutville and get a great aerobic exercise burning off tons of calories.

So the good news is this: you don’t have to get caught up in any statistical analysis to decide which of these activities will be best for your own personal exercise regimen. Any of the three will provide you with great health benefits and the possibility of weight loss or maintenance.

Enjoy knowing that you do not need to pick just one of these activities. You can choose two or all three as part of your personal health program. Choose what best fits your interests and works well into your weekly schedule.

My personal preference is hiking, mostly because of the added benefits that come with being out in nature. However, it’s near impossible for me to work regular hiking excursions into my weekly schedule. So I can use urban walking as a fill-in to help maintain a regular health regimen.

Over time your exercise regimen may change also. For a number of years running was my passion, and I was involved in tackling marathons. But over time, the aging of my body and the increase in injuries forced me to adapt my exercise program.

Walking is easily the safest of the three, but is often downplayed as being the least beneficial in regards to physical conditioning. For many years now, the aerobic doctrine of “no pain, no gain” has dominated the exercise landscape, and walking just seems to fall short of meeting that demand.

However, recent studies analyzed by the Harvard Medical School prove that walking doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Harvard reported that when scientists compiled results from 18 studies, they found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying during the study period by 32%. The benefits were equal in men and women.

Protection was evident even at distances of just 5.5 miles walked per week and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour. The greatest benefits went to people who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace or both. One clinical trial of walking found that walkers enjoyed an 82% lower risk of heart disease. The bottom line: Every walk you take is a step toward good health.

What’s the bottom line to all this? First of all, remember that creating a calorie deficit requires the individual to perform physical activities that will cause the body to metabolize fat into energy. This means to lose weight, the calories consumed via dieting have to be fewer than those you burn daily. So cutting out cakes and doughnuts is a good place to start.

Secondly, get out and exercise. Do what you enjoy most and do it routinely and passionately. Don’t make this a passing fad or some inane New Year’s resolution, but instead, make it your lifestyle.

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