Start small for better exercise results

Dietitians and fitness advocates have been abuzz about the new guidelines for nutrition and exercise released by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine on Sept. 5.

The guidelines recommend people should participate in an hour of moderate physical activity every day to maintain good health.

That is twice the amount of current federal guidelines.

The panel of experts also recommended a range, rather than fixed percentages, of carbohydrate and fat intake.

Interestingly, guidelines for protein intake, the subject of much debate and controversy in the world of fitness, remained unchanged.

If you’re a highly active person who already does more than the minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, the prescription won’t have much impact.

Chances are, you’re already getting more than the basic health benefits from exercise, such as decreased risk for heart attacks and a general feeling of well being.

But the guidelines affect people who achieve only the minimum amount of recommended exercise.

You may feel that it’s too difficult to fit an hour of exercise into your busy life.

Or you may feel frustrated that the guidelines mean an all-or-nothing proposition.

Why bother to put in 30 minutes if you’re not going to get full health benefits anyway?

An hour a day is not an impossible goal, people just have to consider creative ways to complete it.

You can gradually work your way up to an hour over a period of weeks or months, said Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

Remember that it takes time to develop cardiovascular endurance.

It’s tough for some to go from 30 minutes to one hour overnight. Try adding five minutes to your workout next time. See how that feels.

Give yourself a pat for those five additional minutes. After doing this for several days or weeks, you might find it easier. Add another five minutes. Keep adding time as you develop endurance. Before you know it, you’re at the hour mark.

If boredom is the issue, you have many options. After your half-hour workout, take a different 30-minute class.

Get on another exercise machine for 10 minutes, working your way up 30 minutes over time.

Think of it this way: You’re cross training, which can help prevent sports-repetitive stress injuries.

Remember that you don’t have to do the whole half-hour. Increase the duration slowly.

You might surprise yourself at how much athlete you truly have inside you.

When time is a barrier, think outside the exercise box.

Consider other ways to get your heart pumping throughout the day.

Walk briskly, don’t send e-mail or an instant message to a colleague at the other end of the office.

Take the stairs, not the elevator or escalator.

Park far from the entrance to your lunch destination and walk.

The road to fitness and health isn’t about giant leaps. It’s about small steps.