Combining diet with exercise helps you create an energy imbalance so that you can lose weight. Given the multitude of recommendations, how to start an exercise plan and what elements to include can be confusing. You don't have the stamina, fortitude or time to commit to hours a day, so make your beginning exercise routine effective, but manageable, so you stick to it for the long term.
Why Exercise is Important
Weight loss is about burning more calories than you consume. You burn calories by existing -- just breathing, pumping blood and digesting food burns calories. You boost this minimal calorie burn by moving through daily activities such as brushing your teeth and sweeping the floor, for example, or through bigger calorie-burning movements such as walking, running and lifting weights. When you burn about 500 calories more than you consume daily, you lose 1 pound per week. You can achieve this deficit by dieting and cutting calories, but there are only so many calories you can cut. You still have to eat to obtain nutrients and energy. Adding exercise enables you to cut fewer calories, so you feel nourished while still accelerating weight loss.
The American Council on Exercise reports that only 5 percent of dieters are successful at keeping weight off for more than five years. Exercise helps you maintain weight loss and not become one of the 95 percent who pile it back on. To lose weight, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 250 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise -- such as brisk walking -- to be done weekly. In addition, you should strength train at least twice per week. Each of these sessions should hit all the major muscle groups: back, hips, buttocks, arms, legs, shoulders, chest and abdominals. A beginning dieter doesn't have to start with this ambitious amount, though; you can add activity gradually.
Where to Start
The ACSM exercise recommendations for weight loss come out to about 50 minutes of cardio five times per week. If this is too much for you at first, start with what you can muster -- even if it is 20 minutes, three times per week. Walking at a pace of 3 mph or faster is a good routine for beginning exercises. Walking is low impact, easy to do anywhere and requires no special equipment. If you belong to a gym, you could, alternatively, bicycle at a moderate intensity or use an elliptical trainer to count as your cardio activity. After a few weeks of 20 to 30 minutes, add extra days and extra time -- even an extra five minutes per session helps.
Although resistance training doesn't burn as many calories as cardio, it does pack on healthy muscle tissue which makes you look leaner and helps you burn a greater number of calories at rest, enhancing your ability to manage your weight. On two nonconsecutive days -- think Tuesday and Thursday, for example -- do a series of resistance exercises using your body weight. Squats, pushups, dips off a coffee table or bench, spine extensions, plank holds and lunges target most every major muscle group. Do just one set of eight to 12 of each exercise. The whole routine should take no more than 20 minutes. After two to three weeks, add dumbbells to the routine and include bicep curls, shoulder presses and rows. You can stick to one set for general health or gradually, over the course of a few months, add an additional set or two for more strength-building benefit. Once you can easily do an exercise for more than 12 repetitions, increase the weight by 5 to 10 percent.
Beginning dieters should consult a health-care provider before starting an exercise plan to make sure you don't have any underlying health problems that make certain activities off limits. Be patient with your weight-loss process; a healthy rate of loss is just 1 to 2 pounds per week. Exercise and diet are not magic. The combination takes commitment and hard work.