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There are probably just as many excuses why you don't exercise as there are good reasons why you should. Unfortunately, these excuses often outweigh any motivation to exercise or eat right. Sure, you want to look and feel your best, but why does staying fit have to be so much work?

It doesn't.

You can have stronger, more limber muscles; lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels; a strengthened immune system; and an improved self-image -- and you don't have to spend hours at a gym on a torture machine or eat like a bird. Many ordinary activities burn more calories than you think. Just take a look at the chart below to see how common functions can help you burn calories.

Countless studies have shown that 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three or more times a week and some type of muscle-strengthening activity can provide a tremendous benefit to your overall health. Exercising the body can help you achieve more restful sleep, release tension and stress, and promote overall wellness.

A simple activity to begin incorporating into your daily routine is walking. Walking is free, requires little equipment other than a good pair of shoes and some loose clothing, and it has been shown in a number of studies to have a positive effect in weight loss and reducing mortality from heart disease.

Walking is not as strenuous as other forms of exercise, such as tennis or jogging, and is a great exercise for anyone at any age. Walking is also an easy exercise to incorporate into your daily life. You can walk to the store instead of driving or take the stairs instead of using the elevator. Need a nudge to get you started?

Here are a few tips:

  • Walk with a buddy. You'll improve your overall fitness as you catch up with friends.
  • Stretch before you begin. Muscles need to be warmed up to prevent injuries.
  • Wear the correct shoes. They should be comfortable with a rubber sole to absorb the shock of each step, especially if you walk on concrete or asphalt.
  • Adjust your pace. If you're huffing and puffing as you walk, you're exerting yourself too much.

    Walking can also result in weight loss when combined with a proper diet. Unfortunately, we sometimes have an appetite for fatty, salty and sugary foods. (Who wouldn't prefer a chocolate ├ęclair over a stalk of celery?) Denying yourself the occasional treat will only make you crave it more, so forget about completely eliminating those "forbidden" foods. Just make sure you only reach for the gooey dessert after answering "yes" to two questions:

    Have you met your nutritional needs for the day?
    Are you really still hungry?
    And remember, while it's best to fuel your body by eating the recommended daily servings of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, it's also a good idea to take a vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that your nutritional needs are being met.

    Don't forget that while you exercise, your body needs 4 to 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes to replace water loss. And, keep in mind that you can become dehydrated before you ever sense thirst. If you are exercising vigorously for more than an hour, you may want to consider sports drinks -- the extra carbohydrates in these drinks help your body to retain nutrients. Always avoid caffeine or alcohol before, during and after exercise, as both can further dehydrate your body. Be patient about seeing results from any fitness program. If you're out of shape, you didn't get that way overnight. You won't get back in shape overnight either. Work your way into a routine, one step at a time. Pushing yourself too hard after a long period off can result in injury. And, don't be overly focused on the numbers on your scale. Your weight might actually climb initially because of increased muscle mass, so aim for a certain look in your clothes rather than a specific weight.

    Be patient and persistent, and the results will follow. Remember that you're less likely to stick with a fitness routine if you don't enjoy it or if it doesn't fit well into your daily life. An enjoyable fitness experience that works well for you can mean lifelong health, increased well-being and a happier life. This means that if you haven't done so already, you have every reason to start on the road to fitness today!

    Sources: "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise," the Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine; the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; and the American Medical Association

    Physical Activity in Adolescents and Young Adults

    Tips on experiencing the perfect workout
    Tips on experiencing the perfect workout

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