I must confess, I have a personal reason for tackling this topic. After a lifetime of being overweight (or downright obese), I went on Weight Watchers back in 2008 and lost 80 pounds, reaching my goal clothing size. Since then I’ve managed to keep it off for the most part until the past year. I don’t know if it’s the elevated stress of my current job, my age, or just my lack of attention before and after Son No. 2's wedding, but I’m at the point where I have to either get a grip on myself (again) or start buying bigger clothes, and I’m far too cheap for the latter.
So for this post and my next post (January 22), I figured I’d share with you what I’m doing to get back in shape, let you know how it’s going, and invite you to share your story (advice, commiseration, whatever) with us.
Let’s start with the “E-Word” – Exercise. (I know, I know...I’m groaning in my head too.)
First a disclaimer: These are my opinions and mine alone. I am not a fitness instructor, expert or in any way professionally trained or certified. What I do have is years of experience trying different programs, and a few opinions to share.
Q. Do I really have to get off the couch? It's so comfy there. And I'm snuggled up with my new book!
A. I’m sorry, really sorry, but I believe (again, my opinion) that if you want to lose weight and keep it off (meaning eating well in real, everyday situations), you have to move.
But that’s okay because exercise is good for your overall health, even if you don’t actually drop pounds. Check out this article for some information about the great benefits of exercise, including improved cardiovascular health, cognitive functioning and metabolic health.
So it should be a no-brainer to add movement to your everyday life, but for many of us (myself included) it’s more like, “Noooo....don’t make meeeeee!!
For me, the key has been finding what I like and sticking with it. After trying everything over the years from line dancing to Zumba classes, to gym memberships, I’ve discovered what works best for me are at-home workouts. There are tons of them out there, but my current favorite is fitness expert Jessica Smith’s Walk On Walk Strong programs.
I love, love, love Jessica Smith. She’s young and beautiful and peppy (which is enough to make me snarl some mornings), but she’s so NICE. And she works out with her mom (who’s about my age) and her dog Peanut! Seriously, you can’t stay cranky with this woman too long. You might be stiff and grumpy when you start, but before you know it, she’s got you doing something you never thought you’d even try – like these torturous moves called planks, or push-ups, of all things.
What I like about her workouts:
I have a low boredom threshold for exercise, but Jessica offers a number of well-rounded and comprehensive programs including aerobics, strength training, muscle sculpting/toning, circuit training, interval training, yoga, stretching, Pilates...I can’t remember them all. She even has workouts that focus on brain teasers for mental agility.
I think it’s important to vary your workout. If you work the same muscles in the same way every day, even if it’s a great exercise, the effectiveness starts to diminish in my experience. So variety is great.
She has hundreds of free videos on YouTube, but also produces workouts available for purchase on DVD (Amazon) or digitally for streaming (via her website). The quality of the exercises is the same for both, but the free ones are more of a DIY experience, where the ones for purchase are a professional production quality. In addition, she usually has one or two people with her (demonstrating modifications) on the paid versions, where she’s mostly by herself on the free YouTube videos.
|From Walk Strong 3: The Complete 8 Week Home Fitness Program for Women|
Jessica’s routines can be really tough (I can't lie), but she stresses safety and that each person should do a movement or program to her own abilities. So for those who have arthritic knees (like yours truly), she’ll show modifications to keep the strain out of the knee joint. In her for-pay workouts, her mom, Debbie, usually works out with her and does the beginner form of the exercise. Friend Beth does the advanced form (like the super jumping jacks), and Jessica takes the middle level. Sometimes I start with Jessica, move to Beth and end up with Debbie. The important thing, according to Jessica, is to challenge yourself to your own level.
“Practice makes progress” is one of her favorite sayings, and it’s really helpful to hear when you’re panting like a marathon runner when she’s barely breaking a sweat. She often teases her mom about the harder moves. It’s cute. It makes me smile, and who doesn’t need a smile while exercising?
Health vs. Cosmetics
She stresses in every program that the goal is to improve physical health. Even though an added benefit might be fitting in a favorite pair of jeans (or showing off abs in a bikini for the those of you who might dare), the real benefit is improved functionality for everyday life. Movements are designed to help you with what you need to live a full life every day, like the ability to pick up kids or groceries, stand from a seated position on the floor, or build a house. She wants you to have the strength and endurance you need to achieve your daily (and life) goals.
YouTube videos are free.
The for-pay videos range from around $15 to up to around $80 for the long, multi-disc programs. The one I’m doing right now is an 8-week program consisting of six separate discs of three programs each, so 18 separate exercise routines. It’s on the pricier side (around $80, I think), but it’s been really worth it for me. With each of the multi-disc programs, she provides a suggested rotation for the videos. Even for the free YouTube videos, she’ll come up with playlists and series to help you get in the mood.
When I started working out with Jessica about 18 months ago, my aerobics capacity was pretty good, but stagnant. Now I'm doing much more advanced (for me) moves that make me feel younger. Strength-wise, I was working with 3-pound weights for light and 5-pound weights for my “heavy” weights. I’m now up to 5, 8 and 10 pounds. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but I can sense a real increase in my everyday strength, and that makes me feel good.
Jessica Smith is my current favorite, but here is a short list of other workouts I’ve tried:
Leslie Sansone Walk at Home
Leslie's at-home walking workouts start with four basic steps (walking in place, knee lifts, side-to-side steps and kicks), and she builds on those. She also offers a variety of programs including strength training. I loved Leslie’s workouts and did them for years, but I eventually hit my boredom threshold. If you're new to working out, check her out.
Margaret Richards' Body Electric
My favorite from the mid-‘80s, this made me feel like I was doing ballet while building muscle. Margaret has a Kickstarter campaign to get her original free PBS shows up for live streaming. If you’re interested, check it out.
Many people swear by yoga, but it wasn't such a great experience for me. The 15-minute program I did claimed to melt off the fat as quickly as 30 minutes of aerobics. It didn’t. But I did manage to kill my knees. I’m sure my form wasn’t great either. I probably would have benefited from a class with an in-person instructor.
High-intensity movements for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest, for eight rounds. I used to do this and liked the fact I could get done in under 20 minutes.
Loved watching Billy Blanks but nearly killed myself trying to keep up with him. Enough said.
So that's my take on exercise. If you're looking to ramp up your own fitness program, I hope I've given you some ideas and some encouragement. If you're currently doing a program you love (or don't love), I'd love to hear about your experiences.
Here's to a happier, healthier 2018 for all!
Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. Learn more at leahstjames.com