Anyone who sticks to an exercise program knows that the commitment involves a lot of time and, in some cases, money if you belong to a gym or fitness center.

Trap: All too often, people follow ineffective routines that cause them to waste their time and money. Here are my secrets for getting the most from your workout...*

SECRET #1: Do the right amount of cardio. If you don't do enough cardiovascular exercise, you won't get the maximum benefits. But, if you do too much, you'll increase your risk for injury. So how much cardio should you do?

My advice: Follow this simple formula-for every pound you weigh, do one minute of cardio each week. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should do 150 minutes of cardio incorporating a variety of exercises) per week.

Because women in general will end up doing less cardio than men with this formula, it's wise for them to spend more time doing strength training (see next page).

*Consult your doctor before beginning or significantly changing an exercise regimen

Genetically, women have less muscle than men, and as a woman ages, the preservation of lean muscle becomes vital.

SECRET #2: Understand what the programs on cardio machines really mean. Let's say that you opt for a "fat-burning program on a treadmill because you want to lose (or maintain) body weight. Based on the "calories burned from fat" percentages given with these programs, it appears that you will burn more fat if you work out at a lower intensity But that's not true. Because these fat-burning calculations are based on percentages-not to tal calories burned-they are easily misunderstood. For example…

Workout #1: A 30-minute cardiovascular workout at an easy intensity burns 250 calories and 20 g of fat. With this workout, 72% of calories burned are from fat.

Workout #2: A 25-minute intense cardio workout burns 330 calories and 25 g of fat. That's the equivalent of 68% of calories burned from fat.

The easier workout burns a larger percentage of fat, but the more intense workout burns more fat and calories in total—and in less time. The more calories and fat burned, the more weight you will lose.

SECRET #3: Skip the heart-rate zone charts. The most widely used maximum heart-rate zones are calculated by subtracting the exerciser's age from 220. For example, if you are age 50, your maximum heart rate would be 170 (220 - 50 = 170). This is supposed to be the highest heart rate you should reach during a workout. However, research has found that in most cases the number is too low.

My advice: Whether you choose to use a treadmill, StairMaster, stationary bike, elliptical trainer, etc., simply focus on varying the intensity of your workout. Use a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most intense. On some days do a lower intensity workout (around a five or six), and on other days bring it up to a seven or eight. Mix in short intervals (10 to 60 seconds) of high-intensity (nine to 10) exercise.

Better Way to Measure Belly Fat

Researchers reviewed nine years of health-survey data for 12,785 people (average age 41).

Result: People with excess belly fat but still within the "normal" body mass index (BMI) range were almost three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease as those with normal BMls and waist-to-hip ratios (a marker of belly fat).

Theory: BMI alone is not an accurate gauge of deadly visceral fat, which surrounds the heart, liver and other organs.

To determine your waist-to-hip ratio: Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. The ratio should be 0.85 or lower for women and 0.90 or lower for men.

Important: Always get your doctor's approval before following any maximum heart-rate formulas.

SECRET #4: Don't slight your strength-training regimen. Many people complain that, as they age, they eat and exercise the same amount but still gain weight. One of the main causes of this is loss of muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn. Strength training preserves and even increases muscle mass, keeping metabolism at a high level.

Strength training also increases bone density and functional strength and preserves joint health.

My advice: As with cardio workouts, vary your strength training routines. Some days use machines, others use dumbbells or stretch bands. You also could do squats, push-ups and lunges. If you have trouble incorporating separate strength-training sessions into your workout, an efficient method is to do circuit training. This approach involves strength exercises with short bursts of cardio in between.

Important: Don't spend too much time on ab crunches. The appearance of abs is largely due to diet. The best way to reduce abdominal fat is with healthful eating and cardio exercise. Spend only 10% of your strength training sessions on ab exercises. This will define the abdomen once you have decreased abdominal fat.

SECRET #5: Start with an exercise you hate. Because you're less likely to perform exercises you hate, doing them will have a big impact on your body.

My advice: Do just one exercise you don't like at the beginning of a workout-if you put it off until the end of your exercise session, chances are you won't do it. Incorporate one exercise you hate for a few weeks, then switch to another you dislike. This prevents your body from getting used to the hated exercise.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in