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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 am 33 years old, 165 cm. tall and weigh 110 kgs. [that's 5'5" and 242 pounds in American terms - ed.] I am very unhappy with my weight and wish to lose a substantial amount. I have problems with my hips and shoulders - unrelated to my weight, but I am sure the weight is not helping. I find it very difficult to stay motivated and I am limited in the exercises that I am able to do with the joint problems. I am feeling very down on myself and have been feeling this way for many years now. I finally want to tackle this problem but I need some help. Do you have any suggestions?

(Article continued below.)

You have more options than you realize, but you need to get a few things in order first. Before you do anything else, visit with your doctor and get a clean bill of health to start an exercise program. You must know whether you have certain conditions - heart problems and diabetes, just to name a couple - before starting to exercise. You also need to know if you have any issues (i.e. hypothyroidism, etc.) that may be exacerbating your weight problem. You don't say what difficulties you are having with your hips and shoulders, and you will need to have them defined - is it arthritis or something else? Is the problem getting worse or has it been fairly stable for a period of time? You should be able to explain all this to a personal trainer, who will design an exercise program that works within your limitations.

Because it's difficult for you to stay motivated, it is especially important that you hire a personal trainer. You don't have to spend a fortune and have one by your side every time you exercise (that would be nice, but it's unrealistic for most people). Most trainers will work with your budget - they'll set up an exercise routine for you and schedule a session for once every week or two (you'll be expected to complete the assigned exercise routines on your own in between appointments). At the beginning, a trainer will probably want to see you more frequently, but once you have hit your stride, it won't be necessary to see him or her as often. A trainer helps keep track of your results, changes your routine as your body changes, and - most importantly - offers encouragement. You need the latter as much as the other aspects a trainer offers you, and you're not alone. Most people need an outside force to help them stay motivated, especially when they're at the beginning of an exercise program.

What kind of exercises can you expect to do? Exercises that don't stress your joints include cycling (both stationary and out of doors) and swimming. If your hips are not too problematic, you can also try walking. Keep in mind that you will be starting off slowly. Some people start their exercise program by merely walking down the block and back. Maybe you can do more than that, but keep it simple and easy at first (a trainer will help you gauge what is appropriate for your fitness level). You will build your endurance as you go along. You will also probably start a weight-training program with the help of your trainer. If you can afford it and are willing, it would be good for you to join a gym. Gyms have weight machines that are often easier on your joints than just using dumbbells or barbells. Beginning exercisers often have an easier time using the machines too.

Many trainers may also be able to offer you some nutritional advice or, better yet, direct you to a nutritionist. Part of getting in shape involves learning how to eat healthy. Exercise can only build muscle. To really lose a significant amount of bodyfat, you must also modify your current eating habits. Dieting is a dirty word for many people, and it should be. In the long run dieting fails. What works is learning a different way of eating that you can stick to. This doesn't mean giving up your favorite foods forever or having a Spartan list of acceptable foods. It means enjoying a balanced, satisfying menu. Like exercise, you will probably want to start off changing the way you eat slowly so that your body and mind have time to adjust. This is a crucial part of becoming healthy and not something to rush into without thought and guidance.

One last suggestion - and this is one will be very helpful to you. Join an organization such as Overeaters Anonymous, TOPS or Weight Watchers. You will meet a lot of other people who want to lose weight and get in shape. These organizations are excellent support groups - they're places where you can find new friends who can give you tips on exercise and food, and who may turn out to be workout buddies. Many people who have a hard time with motivation wind up thriving when they don't have to exercise alone. Good luck!

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