07/12/2012 03:33 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2012

Shape Up Your Life!

As a self-proclaimed fitness guru, I enjoy leading an active lifestyle. There's nothing like the explosion of endorphins after a spinning workout or reaching a running goal after months of intense training. Though I stopped playing competitive sports after high school, I have continued to make fitness an integral part of my life. While I'm not a fitness expert, nor do I have a degree in medicine, I can speak from what I've learned through my own practices. Whether you're trying to maintain your fitness, lose weight or gain muscle, here are a few misconceptions to be aware of and suggestions for how you can build a healthier lifestyle.

The first common misassumption that people make is that exercise alone will shed pounds. Even if you exercise for 30 minutes a day, you won't lose much weight if you aren't also changing your diet (i.e.., eating smaller portions and making healthier food choices). However, this doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies -- I'm a big believer in eating everything in moderation. If you're trying to lose weight, skipping meals might seem like a logical solution but it's one of the silliest mistakes you can make. Depriving yourself of food will inevitably lead to binge-eating. Instead of skipping meals, eat a snack every three to four hours. (LUNA bars and Fiber One bars are healthy choices that will also satisfy your sweet tooth!) If you keep your metabolism working throughout the day, you won't be as hungry at mealtimes. With the combination of regular exercise and smarter eating habits, your body will change.

Another mistake that people make is approaching exercise with a "bare minimum" attitude. If you're serious about improving your fitness, a "no nonsense" attitude is crucial. Rather than choosing the lowest speed and/or resistance on the elliptical machine, challenge yourself -- it's okay to feel uncomfortable. Choose an exercise that speeds up your heart rate and be prepared to break a sweat. Remember, you can get in shape even if you don't love exercising (although you might start to love it when you see those positive results), but motivation is key; choose the exercise you enjoy the most and stick with it. Group exercise classes, for example, are fun ways to get your body moving while being social.

While cardio exercise is a great way to burn calories, it's not the only way to do so, despite popular belief. Lifting weights can be even more efficient than cardio exercise alone because you're not only burning calories -- you're building muscle, too. Many women avoid lifting weights because they're afraid of "bulking up" (next time you're at the gym, note how many women you see in the weight-lifting area). However, due to the lower testosterone levels in the female body, it's much more difficult for women to build big muscles. So, now that you don't have an excuse to avoid the weight machines, start to incorporate weight training into your routine two or three times a week. If you're looking for tips to get started, Discovery Fit and Health is a great resource.

When you find yourself in a workout rut, groaning as you drag your feet toward the treadmill for the third day in a row, don't ignore your body's signals. After performing the same routine for an extended period of time, your body will become conditioned and that exercise will no longer be effective. If you usually run for a long time at a steady pace, try interval training or running on an incline. By alternating high and low intensity levels, your body will continue to burn calories even after you leave the gym. You can find plenty of good interval workouts on FitSugar and Men's Health.

If you take one thing away from this article, I hope it's the realization that fitness requires hard work and perpetual dedication. Juice cleanses and other fad diets might sound appealing, but that weight loss is only temporary. You can save yourself time and money if you avoid some of the common mistakes I discussed and combine regular (and smarter) exercise with healthy eating. Find a friend or workout buddy to keep you motivated and make exercising more enjoyable. If you set goals, push yourself out of your comfort zone and track your progress, your fitness will improve!

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