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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

I read your article about too much cardio and I had a few questions. I do cardio 5 days a week at about 20 minutes a day. Is this too much? I am not lifting weights because I am concentrating on losing the weight first. I am not fat by any means but I want my gut gone. I am cutting down on the carbs and having a lot more veggies and protein. The thing is, I am so confused about what to do. I have read a lot of articles, but it only makes me more confused. The only reason I don't want to lift weights right now is because I'll have to eat more and eat more carbs and at the same time I am trying to lose about 10 more pounds. What should I do?

(Article continued below.)

There is a lot of confusing information out there when it comes to weight loss, and not all of it is correct. In fact, you've bought into some myths that could actually keep you from losing that gut. On the other hand, you are also doing some things right. Let's see if we can pick apart what's going on and set you on the track to bust that gut.

First off, 20 minutes of cardio a day, 5 days a week is in no way, shape or form too much. In fact, if you are trying to lose a few pounds, it is probably nowhere near enough. Twenty minutes a day is just enough to maintain heart health and not much more. So up the ante to 30 minutes or more at a moderate or higher intensity. (You can probably do as much as an hour 5 times a week and it still won't be too much. Only you and your doctor can be the judge of how much is too much.) And keep your body surprised by changing up the type of cardio you are doing — don't just plod along on the treadmill every day. Chances are your health club has a variety of machines — become intimate with all of them. If the weather's nice, ditch the gym go outside instead for a brisk walk or a run or bike ride. If you like swimming, spend some time in the pool occasionally (but no floating around! Really make your time in the water work). Varying your routine will keep your mind interested and your body at attention.

But in addition to the cardio, you really should do some weight training. Why do you believe you'll have to eat more than you are now if you weight train? If you are ten pounds overweight, then obviously you have been eating more calories than you need anyway. And it's not carbs but protein that help you build muscle — the carbs are energy and optimally utilized for endurance activities like the cardio you are already doing. Believe me, you want muscle. Muscle increases your metabolism so you burn more calories overall. A body without muscle tone will look flabby, no matter how little it weighs. And even though muscle weighs more than fat, it's more compact — two people can weigh exactly the same but the person with a greater percentage of muscle mass will wear a smaller size than the person with a higher percentage of fat. The person with more muscle will look a lot better, too. And I'm assuming you're more interested in appearance than in the number on the scale. In fact, if you can fit into the size jeans you want and look good in the tank top that you're wearing with it, then who really cares what the scale says? Do yourself a favor and add moderate weight training at least a couple or three times a week to your exercise routine. In the long run you'll look and feel better. Thirty minutes of cardio, twenty minutes of weight training and ten minutes of stretching and flexibility will add up to a very productive hour of exercise that will work for just about anyone.

Lastly, really scrutinize your diet to make sure you aren't overeating. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make — they say they are "cutting down on carbs," and then forget about the little tastes they steal out of the bag of chips that's laying around, or the mocha they had that afternoon. Little slips like these that seem completely innocent and unintentional can add up and do significant damage to your efforts to shape up. In addition, when you do have carbs, try to make them quality carbs — whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat breads and the like. Keep the fat content of your meals low — fat is another area that people who go low-carb tend to overdo. Instead, flavor your meats and veggies with spices and maybe a few drops of your favorite hot sauce. Skip butter and mayonnaise. Always be aware of what you're eating... and no snacking in front of the television! Judge your progress by how your clothes fit and how your gut's shaping up and less on what the scale says, and you should do fine.

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