1. Make dietary and exercise changes slowly. If it has taken you all your life to get out of shape, it's okay if it takes a little while for you to move into better health patterns. Changing everything about your diet overnight might only succeed in making you resentful. Too much sudden exercise after a long career of watching television will hurt so badly you'll never stick with it. Be diligent and determined about making changes, but don't do too much too fast. You will be surprised by how a series of small changes eventually add up.
2. Culture counts. When working to improve your diet, be sure to allow for the cultural and ethnic foods that make you happy. Some familiarity and favorites in conjunction with important dietary shifts will yield results rather than make you feel dreary. Missing red sauce as an Italian or feeling horrible about taking fish oil if you are a longtime vegetarian doesn't have to be part of the plan. You can cut down or modify recipes and make substitutions, but don't cut out your family traditions entirely or go against your core beliefs. The idea is to feel good. Find ways to let your favorite foods in on the journey.
3. Have another drink (of water, that is). We've talked about water quite a bit in a previous post. Believe it or not, there's still more. You have probably heard that you should drink a lot of fluids when you're sick. This is true. When you're congested, drinking extra water can clear up your sinuses. When you are working on losing some weight, consuming water helps keep you feeling satisfied so you feel less desire for unnecessary snacking. Remember to drink up!
4. Don't forget to breathe. This one sounds like a no-brainer. If you forget to breathe for too long, you won't be reading this. However, when you exercise there's more to breathing; you need to do it right. Never hold your breath while lifting weights, which could cause dizziness, nausea, hernia, heart attack, and other bad results. A good rule of thumb is to exhale on the exertion, taking one full out and in breath for each rep. For runners, they say a three-to-two inhale-to-exhale ratio is ideal to give you enough oxygen. Concentrate on filling your lungs, perhaps for longer than is usual, and you will develop good breathing habits to stay safe and optimize exercise time.
5. Calculate your target heart rate. It is a good idea to get to know your heart rate. Your resting heart rate is usually somewhere between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Your maximum is usually said to be 220 minus your current age. Your target heart rate -- the number you should aim to maintain for the majority of your workout -- is 50 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. Have a trainer observe your workout and help you determine your personal optimal heart rate for best results.
6. Keep at it, but change it up. Muscle memory is a phenomenon that happens once you've done an exercise for some time and your body eventually learns just what to do. This is what gives someone a great backhand, throw, or golf swing. But doing the same exercise and only that exercise causes the body to plateau, and you'll start to notice the workout feels too easy and you're not progressing. Change your routine periodically to introduce some muscle confusion. That just means different muscle groups are given new tasks. So keep working at your favorite sport or fitness activity to get better and better at it, but throw in some other fun moves. You'll get fit, you won't get bored, and your muscles will kick it back into high gear.
Sanjay Jain is a US-trained Board Certified physician, with over 15 years of clinical experience. He is the author of the new book, OPTIMAL LIVING 360: Smart Decision Making for a Balanced Life (Greenleaf, February 2014). Sanjay represents a new wave of thought leadership and expertise developed not only from his medical and financial education, but also his life experiences. Follow Sanjay on Twitter at @sanjayjainmd and visit his website at SanjayJainMD.com.