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Get Thee to a Gym? Perhaps Not!

Copyright 2006 Howard McGarity So, you have decided that it’s finally time to lose some weight and get in shape. Congratulations on your determination. Changing your habits can be a real challenge and it is reasonable to seek some support. One of the options that many people choose is to sign up at the gym. This sounds like a good idea but is one that requires some careful thought. Although hard to measure, health club industry statistics predict that fifty percent of people joining a gym will become erratic users or drop-outs within a couple of months. If you are a beginner, or not already in the habit of regular exercise, you are quite likely to be headed for disappointment. There are several reasons why the gym experience may not be your best choice:

1. Inflated Promises. Despite the sales pitch, the majority of glitzy, chrome and glass establishments are not really committed to help you get fit. They are set up to sell memberships because that is where the money is. Profitability actually depends on no-shows because if every member who enrolled tried to use the facilities, you wouldn’t be able to squeeze them into the building. Once you sign a contract and they have your credit card number, you are probably on your own.

2. Will you actually be able to get to the gym regularly? I've seen it all too often; you work late, traffic is bad, you have to get home. and shoot, you’ll just have to work out later! Worse still, when you get home, you don’t even take a ten minute walk because.. you're going to the gym tomorrow. Having a gym membership actually becomes the perfect excuse to do nothing.

3. Beware aerobics classes. This is especially true if you are older, in poor shape or seriously overweight. Most aerobics classes specialize in loud music and fancy footwork. If you are a beginner, forget it. If you can't keep up, the pep rally mentality and one-size-fits-all instruction will leave you feeling fat and foolish.

4. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Many gyms do not have a thorough orientation program to get you started; nor can you get help when you have questions. During peak hours, early and late in the day, the staff is usually overwhelmed. You will be encouraged to get a personal trainer (probably the best idea… if you can get one with sufficient experience). But this comes with a hefty price tag and pressure to sign up for a long-term package deal. Try this plan instead: Weight loss is achieved primarily by learning what and how much to eat (note I didn’t use the word “starvation”). Exercise assists weight loss, improves general health and fosters a positive attitude that is motivating. Improvements in both nutrition and physical activity must be sustained and consistent but can be quite moderate. Now do five things: 1. Spend your money on a meeting with a registered dietitian who can show you how to eat and will give you guidance on your eating habits. This knowledge will last you for a lifetime and puts you miles ahead of all the other “dieters” out there. 2. Buy a good pair of walking shoes and an inexpensive pedometer. Go to the Shape-Up America website at www.shapeup.org/shape/steps . Also check out www.thewalkingsite.com/10000steps and click on “beginner”. Read the information carefully. There is more here than meets the eye. Even if you are in decent shape, don’t underestimate the value of walking. Pick up the pace, include some steep hills; you can get a really good workout. 3. Use your day planner or calendar to schedule your workouts for the week in advance and keep a log of everything you do. Figure on losing an average of no more than one pound per week and chart out short and long term goals. Weigh yourself no more than once a week. 4. Get a partner to join you for a regular walk each week. Better yet, get them to join you on the program and hold each other accountable.

5. When your energy and enthusiasm increases, keep your mind open to the idea of strength training. This will speed fat loss and do more to improve your body shape than any other activity. You can do this at home with almost no equipment. Go out now and get the book "Getting in Shape" by Anderson, Pearl and Burke. Shelter Publications 2002. This is a real gem; easy to read with good basic programs and enough information so you understand what you are doing. If you noticed, all of the steps above are pro-active. You are the one ultimately responsible for taking control of your life and your health. Even if the guys at the gym could do it for you, any improvement will be temporary until you accept the challenge as your own. Good luck and good health. Howard McGarity ”Coach Mac”


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