Stay in Shape

How to use exercise to stay smoke-free and get healthier

If you are among the ranks vowing to make 2009 the year to kick nicotine to the curb, I commend you. It takes conviction and dedication to break the addiction for good, and it may be the single best preventative step you will ever take to protect your health and longevity.

Smoking stresses the heart and makes it beat faster, which increases metabolism. So, it's common for those who quit smoking to worry about weight gain. The good news: With a reasonable exercise routine and sound nutrition, you can quit smoking and reach or maintain a healthy body weight. You'll feel stronger and more energetic... and your body will thank you for it.

So let's kick those butts (cigarettes, that is) and stay in shape with the following tips: 

1. Don't worry that you aren't exercising "enough." 

Make a reasonable commitment and keep it. In an ideal world, you would follow the guidelines of exercising 3 to 5 times a week for 20 to 60 minutes. In the real world, remember that whatever amount of time you are able to consistently commit to your workout is the right amount of exercise for you at this juncture. If that is twice a week for 20 minutes a session, that's great. If that's twice a week for 30 minutes a session; even better. Aim for what you know you can reasonably do and build from there. The goal is to feel successful and keep your commitment to yourself instead of feeling disappointed that you haven't done enough. 

2. Remember to do your strength training. 

If you are someone who always does your cardiovascular ("aerobic") workout first?the stair stepper, elliptical trainer or stationary bike?or often skips strength training altogether, try reversing the order and lifting weights first. This will ensure that you don't skip this critical component and spend all of your time on cardio training. Redirect your workout's focus on toning muscle, especially if you haven't been seeing the results you want. With regular strength training you will see a positive change in the shape and feel of your body—guaranteed! Once you are done working with weights, use any remaining time to work up a sweat on the treadmill. 

3. Follow a healthy diet and give your body the fuel it needs. 

While it's very important to exercise, it's vital to eat well, too. Good food and physical activity go hand in hand with long-term weight control. 

4. Increase the intensity of your workout. 

If you exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and still aren't seeing the results you want, odds are good that you are not exercising at the proper intensity. Set a goal of increasing your cardio workout by one notch, and then add a few minutes at an even higher level before returning to your usual setting. This allows you to gradually feel more comfortable at a higher intensity and burns more calories in a shorter period of time. 

5. Keep your workout sessions to one hour or less. 

The more you keep your workouts to a manageable timeframe, the more likely you will stay motivated. Keep focused on the task at hand and the goals that you want to accomplish. Always be sure to finish each session with some light stretching. If you still don't feel that you have enough time to exercise—even with a cap of 60 minutes—return to Step 1! 

6. Don't be a fitness loner. 

If you're having a hard time sticking to a routine, a fitness community may be the key element that your workout is missing. Social support has an amazing effect on your enjoyment of and commitment to fitness (and to your smoking cessation efforts, too) that cannot be underestimated. If you tend to work out at home, try to exercise with other people at least once a week by taking a group class or going to a fitness center. If you exercise at a community center or gym, join a walking or running club, or take lessons in an activity that interests you, like yoga, sailing or ice-skating. 

7. Select exercises and activities that you enjoy. 

The most important thing is to choose exercises that you enjoy and to be consistent. Never forget that you can burn a lot of calories doing everyday activities, like walking or biking to work, taking the stairs, raking leaves and gardening. The more active you are throughout the day, the more energy you will burn. 

8. Keep up the good work. 

Be your own coach. Repeat words of encouragement while you are exercising. Congratulate yourself often, give yourself positive feedback, and keep up the good work!

Visit Dr. Miriam Nelson's blog for more tips on keeping your body strong and healthy.


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