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The exercise equation
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Should you join a gym?
Should you join a gym?

Sign up only if you think you’ll go. Some people find the mirrored walls, crowds of super-fit exercisers and enormous equipment intimidating. The good news: You don’t need a gym to get in shape. Buy some exercise DVDs or borrow them from the library, find workouts on television, take a daily walk, climb the stairs at work or in your house and invest in free weights, a fitness ball and resistance bands for strength training. Find exercises at www.acefitness.org/exerciselibrary.

You’ve heard it over and over: The key to losing weight is to eat less and move more. But exactly how active do you need to be, and what counts as exercise?

Burn, baby, burn!

Your goal is to burn as many calories as you can. The formula to remember: For every 3,500 calories you burn through exercise, you’ll drop 1 pound. If you weigh 160 pounds, you’ll burn 584 calories an hour jogging (if you weigh more than that, you’ll burn more calories; less than that and you’ll burn fewer). Do it daily, and you’ll drop a little more than a pound a week (584 × 7 = 4,088 calories). If you’re not up for jogging, just walk: If you weigh 160 pounds, you’ll burn 277 calories walking for an hour at a 3.5-miles-per-hour pace.

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Of course, not all exercise is equal: For a 160-pound person, an hour of bowling or ballroom dancing burns 219 calories; playing basketball, 584. Ideally, you want to burn 250 calories a day through exercise and eliminate 250 calories a day from your diet to lose a pound a week. Be more active and cut more calories and you’ll lose more weight, but don’t go overboard. Experts say it’s unhealthy to lose more than 2 pounds a week.

Current guidelines state that for general health, each week you should do at least:

  • two-and-a-half hours of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking, ballroom dancing, housework)
    or
  • an hour-and-a-half of vigorous activity (jogging, playing tennis, mowing the lawn with a push-mower)
    and
  • strength training activities (push-ups, sit-ups, bicep curls) two or more days

Exactly how you do it is up to you. You can break those two-and-a-half hours of moderate activity into five half-hour workouts, two-and-a-half one-hour workouts or 10 fifteen-minute workouts.

To lose weight or keep off any weight you’ve already lost, you need to be even more active, exercising at a moderate level for at least 60 to 90 minutes a day.