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IT'S HOW YOU MOVE - Part 3

People who suffer from chronic diseases benefit even more, cutting their risk of premature death nearly in half. And the benefits aren't just for the body. Studies have shown that even moderate exercise is an effective antidote to depression, and a report by the Mayo Clinic indicates that it helps elderly adults ward off dementia.

 But more isn't always better. My guiding principles used to be “the more I exercise, the more weight I will lose,” but that's not necessarily so. A study from the University of Copenhagen compared three groups of men in their twenties and thirties. One group was sedentary, another worked out moderately for thirty minutes a day, and a third group exercised strenuously. At the end of thirteen weeks, the sedentary men weighed the same and the strenuous exercisers had peeled off about five pounds. But the “biggest losers” were the men on the moderate exercise plan, who shed an average of about seven pounds apiece.

Food diaries showed that the men who exercised the most seemed to have gotten hungrier and ate more as a result. They also moved less over the course of the rest of the day. Those who were putting in thirty minutes of moderate exercise daily, by contrast, continued to consume the same number of calories. Just as important, the formal exercise seemed to motivate them to make changes in their daily activities, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and they had enough leftover energy to actually do it.

For most of us, that's good news: you don't have to train as hard as a professional athlete to lose weight and be healthier. What you do have to do is make the commitment to develop what David Kirchhoff of Weight Watchers International calls the “exercise habit.” “Habits can be forces of tremendous good or forces of horrific evil,” David writes in his blog Man Meets Scale. “How many of us drink a glass of wine at a certain time of day because it's just what we do? How many of us feel the need to have a snack on our lap when we watch TV at night, even when we're not hungry? These forces are deeply rooted in our neural pathways. However, if habits can get us into trouble, they can also be the force that makes healthier life permanent.”

Psychologists say it can take as little as two months to develop a new habit. What if only sixty days stand between you and a healthier life? “I finally turned into a six- or seven-day-a-week exercise person, and it is the greatest gift of my life,” David told me. “It's annoying to hear people talk about how their exercise is a gift to them, but there's some perverse truth in it, no matter how miserable I might look in a spinning class.

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