What I learned by using exercise as one tool to lose weight (with special thanks to the trainer who helped me succeed):
1. My pleasant strolls around the lake with my friend were lovely, but they were doing nothing for my cardiovascular system and were not helping me with weight loss. To be beneficial, exercise has to increase your heart rate. My goal was to get my heart rate up to 120 at least mid-way in a walk, and keep it there most of the way. That transformed my 45-minute stroll around the lake into a 30-minute workout.
Some tips on heart rate:
• Adults typically have a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats a minute. The lower the number, the better.
• On the other end of the spectrum is your maximum heart rate. Determine this by deducting your age from 220. I began my program at age 59, so my maximum heart rate was 161.
• When exercising, your aim should be reaching 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. My goal of 120 was about 75 percent of my maximum.
• It’s simple to measure your heart rate: Find the pulse point in your wrist or your neck until you can feel your pulse regularly enough to begin counting. Time yourself for 15 seconds. Multiply that by 4, to get the rate for a minute, or 60 seconds. If your rate is 30, your heart rate is at 120. A heart rate monitor can do this electronically, but your finger is cheaper and needs no batteries.
• Don’t overdo it. If you exercise at 85 percent or higher, you can do damage to your heart and your bones.
• Check with your doctor before getting started to make sure you have no health risks that would affect your exercise.
2. When I reached a goal, it was time to push myself more, not sit back and congratulate myself. If you want to continue losing weight, you have to keep increasing your exercise. Be reasonable. If you walk 30 minutes a day, add another five every two weeks or so. You can stop the increases once you have met your goal. At that point, keep exercising at the same rate to maintain that weight loss. Same thing with lifting weights. If you have been lifting 20 pounds at ten counts, gradually add more counts and more weights—first, go for 12 counts at 20 pounds, then 15 at 20 pounds. Then add five pounds and start the process again with ten counts at 25 pounds.
3. I had to listen to my body and do what it could handle. I tried jogging and liked it for a while—mostly I liked that I could do it. Eventually, though, my bones began to hurt and I had to be honest that it was just too jarring for my body. It helped me lose the weight, but I do not need it for maintenance. Occasionally, I run for a minute or two during a walk, just to get my heart rate up, but I do not try for any significant length. I am not opposed to jogging—for others. I just know it is not for me, and I know that if I hate doing something I will simply avoid it. I love walking and hiking, so that is my exercise of choice.
4. I don’t let myself get lazy. I stopped working with the trainer after a year, but I still have him in my head—it’s as though he’s sitting on my shoulder. When I am on a hike and think it is time to rest, or stop altogether, my interior voice tells me to keep going just a bit longer, push myself just a bit more. I have learned I can. And I am pretty doggone proud of that. And thankful.