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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.

My friend is 5'3 and weighs a little over 300 pounds. We go to the gym 5 or 6 times a week and she does about 40 to 45 minutes of cardio. I told her I think she is doing too much exercise but she disagreed. What do you think? Remember, she has only been exercising for about two and a half weeks.

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Is she doing too much? It's hard to know for sure, since you don't say what type of cardio she is doing, or how intensely she is doing it. Forty to 45 minutes of cardio five or six times a week is a lot for most beginners, especially one who is carrying as much extra weight as your friend. If she is taking it easy during this time, however - easy walking, for example, or using a low resistance level on the elliptical - it may not be as bad as you think. Only your friend, with the help of her primary care provider, can determine what is right for her (and at 300 pounds, she really needs to consult her doctor about exercising). One concern here is whether she has started off her exercise program a little too ambitiously. That's a mistake that a lot of fitness newbies make, and that is a potential concern because she might burn out on exercise before it has a chance to become an integral part of her life.

The problem with a lot of beginning exercisers is that they want to lose weight and get in shape right away. They forget, or ignore, the fact that it took them months or years to get out of shape, and the results they are looking for take time and planning. A body - and mind - that is not used to being active does best when introduced to exercise gradually. If a person goes too hard or too often at first, it sets a standard that is hard to maintain. When exercise causes several days of extreme soreness, it's bound to dampen a beginner's enthusiasm. And exercising too frequently before figuring out how fitness fits into your life will eventually create scheduling conflicts, with exercise being the loser. In addition, it takes time to learn how to exercise properly and even the simplest forms of cardio require good form to get the best results. Bad form, even while walking or using one of the machines at the gym, can cause injury, especially if your muscles aren't used to working out. New exercisers who get injured right away may wind up forgetting to start up again once they have healed.

Those who are new to exercise will do themselves a big favor if they start off slowly. The first few weeks should be considered an adjustment period, during which you explore what feels right for your body and your schedule. This is the time to try different forms of exercise to see which ones you like best. It's also the time to see how and where it fits best into your schedule. Once you are comfortable with exercising on a regular basis, then it's time to kick it into gear. If you haven't yet designed a plan and set goals, now is the time to do so. A few sessions with a personal trainer can help you create an exercise program that will help you achieve the results you need. Remember - fitness is ideally a lifestyle and it doesn't happen overnight. It grows and changes with you. You wouldn't expect to become an accomplished pianist, webmaster or salesperson in a few day's time. It's the same with exercise - you educate yourself a little at a time and you learn something from each session, especially when you are new. Eventually you will want to have periods where you push yourself, but the start of an exercise program is not the time to do it.

If you are still concerned about how much your friend is exercising, perhaps you can have her read this, and then let her draw her own conclusions.

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