Starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. After all, physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight, and even boost your self-esteem. And you can reap these benefits regardless of your age, sex or physical ability.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults include aerobic exercise and strength training in their fitness plans, specifically:
Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and strengthen your bones and muscles. But if you haven’t exercised for some time and you have health concerns, you may want to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.
When you’re designing your personal fitness program, consider your fitness goals. Think about your fitness likes and dislikes, and note your personal barriers to fitness. Then consider practical strategies for keeping your fitness program on track.
Starting a fitness program is an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you can make fitness a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime.
Sure, you want to lose weight, but are you in the right mindset to make it happen? Stop sabotaging your efforts with a self-defeating outlook and stay motivated to reach your goals with these effective techniques.
Negative beliefs and self-talk
The internal dialogue you have with yourself influences your actions. Thoughts such as “I’ll never lose weight” or “I’m no good at exercising” can weaken your self-esteem and stall your progress. Replace these thoughts with positive statements. Instead of: “I can’t stick with an exercise program,” tell yourself: “I can meet one realistic goal today.”
Many people imagine that losing weight will solve all their problems. Your life will likely change with weight loss — but probably not in all the ways you imagine. Losing weight doesn’t guarantee a better social life or more satisfying job. Keep your expectations focused on those very real benefits like more energy and higher self-esteem.
Words such as always, never or must place undue pressure on you. Telling yourself you’ll never eat chocolate again or you must walk two miles a day can lead to guilt-ridden lapses. Instead, treat yourself now and then in ways that make sense — when you’re out to dinner with friends, not when you’re feeling sad.
One setback doesn’t mean failure. If you eat too much one day, you haven’t blown your plan. Counteract this kind of thinking with moderation — no “good” and “bad” foods, for example, and it’s OK to have dessert once in a while. Remind yourself you can get back on track tomorrow.
Be flexible on your weight-loss journey. Don’t expect perfection. If you have a slip-up, learn from it and move on.
When you want to drop some weight, it’s tempting to look for help anywhere you can. If your thoughts turn to supplements or herbal remedies, keep in mind that research gives many of them mixed reviews. In some cases, there isn’t a lot of science to back up the claims, and some have health risks. Talk with your doctor first before you try any.
Also, you should know that the FDA has cracked down on some weight loss supplements that had prescription drugs in them that weren’t noted on the label. You can’t always tell what you’re getting.
The FDA regulates dietary supplements, but it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before they sell them.
This is a sugar that comes from the hard outer layers of lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. Enthusiasts say it can block fats and cholesterol from getting absorbed by your body.
Does it help you lose weight? Natural Medicines, an independent group that analyzes research on supplements, says there isn’t enough reliable evidence to rate it. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that chitosan has not been shown to be effective for weight loss.
Chitosan usually causes no side effects, but some people get an upset stomach or constipation. If you are allergic to shellfish, you should not take chitosan, because it is made from shellfish.
Chromium is a mineral that enhances insulin, a hormone that’s important for turning food into energy. Your body also needs it to store carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
There are claims that chromium supplements can:
But a review of 24 studies that checked the effects of 200 to 1,000 micrograms of chromium a day found that there aren’t any significant benefits. Natural Medicines says that chromium is “possibly ineffective” for weight loss.
Rarely, chromium supplements can cause side effects such as:
Also, at least three people have developed kidney and liver damage when taking chromium. You shouldn’t use it if you have kidney or liver problems.
This is a popular supplement that contains chemicals found in a fatty acid called linoleic acid. There are claims that it may help curb body fat and help you stay full.
The research on CLA for weight loss is mixed. Some suggests that for some people, 1.8 to 6.8 grams of CLA per day may:
But other research shows it doesn’t help you shed pounds.
Natural Medicines says that CLA is “possibly effective” for weight loss.
Some researchers warn that long-term use, especially if you’re obese, may raise insulin resistance, which makes it more likely you’ll get type 2 diabetes. It might worsen cholesterol in your blood, as well, which raises the risk of heart problems.
In some people, CLA may cause side effects such as:
This is made from the konjac plant. Like other dietary fibers, it’s supposed to help you lose weight by blocking fat in your food from being absorbed into your body.
Very early studies suggest it might be helpful, but other evidence shows it doesn’t work.
Natural Medicines says there is “insufficient evidence” to rate how well glucomannan works for weight loss.
If you take glucomannan in the tablet form of the supplement, you could choke or get a blockage in your:
It appears to be somewhat safer if you take this supplement as a powder or a capsule.
Glucomannan also may make it harder for your body to absorb medications. So take your medicine either 1 hour before or 4 hours after you use glucomannan.
It supposedly works by:
Natural Medicines says there isn’t enough evidence to rate how well it works.
Side effects of green tea extract, especially in high amounts, include:
Early studies suggest it may lead to modest weight loss, but more research is needed. Natural Medicines states that there is not enough good research to decide if it is effective.
Few people have side effects, but because of the caffeine in green coffee it may cause:
This comes from the seed of the guar plant. Like other dietary fibers, it may prevent fats from being absorbed into your body and helps you feel full.
Guar gum has been studied much more than other fibers for weight loss, and most researchers say it’s not effective.
Natural Medicines agrees and rates guar gum as “possibly ineffective.”
Side effects may include:
This is a plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert in Africa. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the stem of the root was traditionally used by Bushmen to cut their hunger and thirst during long hunts. It’s now marketed as an appetite suppressant.
Hoodia contains P57, an ingredient that’s said to curb appetite by helping you feel full. But there’s no credible evidence that it’s safe or effective.
Natural Medicines says it lacks evidence to rate whether hoodia works.
This is found naturally in your body. It may help you lose pounds by boosting your metabolism so you burn more calories throughout the day.
In a couple of small studies, people who took 7-keto-DHEA — along with moderate exercise and a reduced-calorie diet — lost significantly more weight than those who were given a placebo (a dummy pill). But Natural Medicines says there still isn’t enough reliable evidence to rate how well it works.
A decrease in blood count has been reported after taking 7-Keto-DHEA for a week. Scientists are not yet sure what this can mean for the person taking the supplement.
This is an herb that’s also known as ma huang. This is a different plant from a related species that grows in North America. Ephedra contains the stimulant ephedrine.
It is very closely related to these manmade compounds found in some drugs:
The FDA banned supplements with ephedra after the herb was linked to serious side effects, including:
The FDA’s ban doesn’t apply to traditional Chinese herbal remedies or to products such as herbal teas.
According to the FDA, there is little evidence that the herb helps except for short-term weight loss. The agency says the health risks outweigh any benefits.
Natural Medicines says ephedra is “likely unsafe.”
The bitter orange tree is native to Africa and tropical Asia. It’s also grown in the Mediterranean, California, and Florida.
Bitter orange fruit rind contains synephrine, a stimulant related to ephedrine. It supposedly works by raising the number of calories burned.
After the FDA banned weight loss products containing ephedra, many makers switched to bitter orange, but it’s not clear if it’s safer.
Natural Medicines says that bitter orange is “possibly unsafe” and there’s not enough evidence to know if it works for weight loss.
The FDA says bitter orange may not be safe to use as a dietary supplement. You should especially avoid it if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, or other medical problem.
You should also avoid bitter orange supplements if you take caffeine, certain medications (such as MAO inhibitors), or herbs or other supplements that speed up the heart rate.
If regular physical activity didn’t make your list of New Year’s resolutions, add it now. Your life depends upon it.
Sedentary lifestyles count as a major risk factor for chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis (brittle bones). A 2010 study found that, compared to women who spent fewer than three hours a day sitting, those who sat six hours or more were 34 percent more likely to die.
The remedy is simple: Move. The benefits are plentiful.
Changing habits, especially ones you’ve had for many years, isn’t easy. But breaking these five unhealthy habits can make a difference in your weight, which is why we encourage you to eliminate them for two solid weeks.
Changing habits is challenging, but with confidence and the right strategies, you can succeed. And remember: Your immediate goal is to stick to these changes for only two weeks.
Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair. Your best friend feasts on whatever she wants and never gains a pound, while you suffer through carrots and celery and still can’t lose an ounce. Could your metabolism be to blame? It’s possible. Although genetics play a role in how your metabolism runs, you do have some power to increase metabolism and help burn calories more quickly.
Metabolism is a chemical process that converts your body’s fuel (calories) into energy. It’s involved in everything your body does, from breathing to moving and thinking. If your metabolism runs fast, it’s like a furnace quickly burning through fuel. If it runs slowly, it’s more like a smoldering fire using up your fuel supply gradually.
A slow metabolism is actually a very efficient one, says Michael Zemel, PhD, professor emeritus and former director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He explains that our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who often didn’t know when their next meal would come. Their bodies held onto calories as a matter of survival. And because only the fittest people lived to pass along their genes, modern humans probably evolved from those with slower metabolisms.
Fast forward to you: Here’s how to boost metabolism for better weight management.
Build Muscle to Boost Metabolism
Lean muscle burns more calories than fat, even when you’re at rest, says Dr. Zemel. So increasing your muscle mass will help increase metabolism and burn calories more quickly. This is especially important as you move into middle age, a time when metabolism naturally slows down and you risk a loss of muscle mass. The answer is to add weight training to your workout routine. Zemel says this can be as easy as working out with resistance bands while standing in front of the TV.
Get Some Shut-Eye to Increase Metabolism
Sleep deprivation or having an erratic sleep schedule can contribute to a sluggish metabolism, says Zemel. Inadequate sleep also puts you at risk for metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, he adds. According to a study from the University of Chicago, even a few nights of poor sleep can do damage. Researchers say that healthy study participants who got only four hours of sleep for four nights became more resistant to insulin — and insulin resistance is a common precursor to developing diabetes.
Boost Metabolism by Spreading Out Your Meals
Rethinking how you eat can help with better weight management. If you eat cereal and yogurt for breakfast, have the cereal but save the yogurt for a mid-morning snack. At lunch, save part of your meal to eat in the middle of the afternoon. Zemel notes that spreading out meals can have a positive effect on metabolism and blood sugar levels.
Get Off Your Duff to Burn Calories
Zemel says that long periods of inactivity can contribute to a sluggish metabolism and bigger health problems. British researchers analyzed results from 18 studies that looked at inactivity and the risk for disease. They found that the most sedentary people have a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and an even bigger risk for diabetes.
At the office, don’t spend hours at a time sitting at your desk — get up and move around, says Zemel. Look for opportunities like walking over to a colleague’s office and having a conversation instead of sending an e-mail. Or consider walking around your office while talking on the phone. While watching TV at home, you can get up during commercial breaks to tidy the house or just move around.
Don’t Try a Starvation Diet to Lose Weight
A very low-calorie diet or skipping meals to lose weight can backfire. “Your body will fight you and slow down your metabolism,” says Zemel. It’s possible to lose 30 pounds on a low-calorie diet, but it takes fewer calories to maintain your body weight after a prolonged dip in calories — and most people gain back that weight and then, when they try to take it off again, it’s harder.
Have Your Thyroid Checked
If your weight gain is sudden, it may be due to hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid gland. This is a common condition, especially in women older than 50. When the thyroid gland is not producing enough hormones, body functions, including metabolism, slow down. One of the biggest symptoms of hypothyroidism is unexplained weight gain. Simple blood tests can detect an underactive thyroid. There is no cure, but treatment using synthetic thyroid hormones is very effective.
Beware of Metabolism-Boosting Hype
Although spicy food is often touted as a metabolism booster, the effects may be exaggerated. One study in the European Journal of Nutrition did find that people who added capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili and other peppers that makes them hot) to their breakfast food felt more satisfied and ate less the rest of the day. Green tea and caffeine are other examples of dietary factors that can give a minimal boost to metabolism, Zemel says. Just remember that it’s fitness — not food — that can definitely help you burn more calories.
Don’t be fooled by false health claims. There are only two true ways to boost your metabolism: weight-loss surgery and weight training that increases muscle mass. But there are many factors that can cause your metabolism to slow and the number on the scale to creep up. The good news is you don’t have to take these changes lying down — you can always fight your metabolic triggers and change your metabolism for the better. Here’s how top docs say you can reverse a bad metabolic trend and rev your body’s calorie-burning engine.