Dec 272010

The first of every new year, many of us vow to suppress our vices and embark on a healthier and more productive lifestyle. Within a week or two, most of us shelve the newly purchased exercise equipment and the mineral water and take to the sofa, caloric drink in hand. Why do resolutions so often fail and what can we do to be more successful in 2011?

Let’s first tackle the first part: why resolutions so often fail. My theory, after reviewing hundreds of peoples’ resolutions and fitness goals is that they are formulated without an fundamental plan behind them, unrealistic, or not a true priority. For example, I can’t count how many times I see “I want to lose 10 pounds.” OK, that’s great, so does everyone else on your block, but how do you plan to get that fat to budge?

Expecting to succeed without a specific plan is like trying to drive someplace without your road map or GPS. You will be more successful in your endeavor if you outline a plan such as; “I plan to lose 10 pounds in approximately 5 months by increasing increasing my aerobic exercise to one hour per day five days per week (2 of those days will include 30 minutes of high intensity intervals 2 min hard, 1 minute rest) and hiring a personal trainer to design a strength training plan I can do twice a week. I will also consult with a nutritionist to look at what I’m currently eating to help me modify my diet so it’s lower in calories and more nutritious. I am going to do the cardio before work on M, W, and F and after work on T and Th. I will work with the trainer on T and Sa.” Your plan should always have a time limit on achieving the goal and outline in detail all the steps you will take to get there.

Now let’s talk about the unrealistic expectations and resolutions. If you’ve never exercised in your life and you are over 40, there is little chance you are ever going to have the lean muscular body of an athlete or look like the next Cosmo cover girl. I often am left speechless when someone says to me, a long-time competitive swimmer and fitness instructor “What do I have to do to have your body?” They probably don’t want to hear “Turn back time and start competitive swimming (or some other vigorous exercise) when you are 10 and then stay super active the rest of your life,” so I usually say something like “do a lot of exercise and learn to love it.” Even if you can’t look like a cover girl or an athlete, that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. You still could dramatically improve your look and your health. Instead of comparing your body to someone else, compare it to the body you had before you started your weight loss plan. Notice how loose your clothes are fitting and buy a new outfit that flatters your new physique.

Finally, if it’s not really a priority, you won’t succeed. I read recently in a magazine that most people want to weigh less, but when asked various questions in a survey about modifying diet and exercise, most responded that they really didn’t want to weigh less bad enough to eat less and workout more. Be honest with yourself when constructing your resolutions. Are you willing to make changes and sacrifices to lose that weight, lower that blood pressure or fit into that slinky dress? Will what’s going on with your life right now support these life changes?

Remember, success in any area of life, including health and fitness, requires commitment and discipline. Think about anything you’ve ever achieved that was worthwhile. It took persistence and hard work, right? Well it’s the same with your health. But if you really want to be healthy and are willing to commit the time and plan a strategy to make it happen, it will. And next year when it comes time to make more health and fitness resolutions, you will be able to write down “Keep on doing what I’m doing!”

May 212010

Susan Dawson-Cook finishing the La Jolla Shores 5KIf you’re like most of us, you want to maximize the number of calories burned during each and every workout. That way, sampling a thick slice of chocolate cake at your neighbor’s luncheon or sharing a bottle of wine with your spouse at dinner won’t lead to guilt or extra weight around the mid-section. But how many calories do you really burn when you swim, run or lean on that weight machine and chat with your friends (if you do the latter, we need to talk)?

The number of calories you burn depends on the type of activity in which you are engaged, your weight and how vigorously you engage in a given activity.

First, the bad news. If you weigh 200 pounds, you will burn more calories than a 150 pound individual during any given activity, even though both of you are doing the same amount of work. Yes, ladies—it’s an unpleasant fact of life that you can’t eat as many calories as your spouses without paying the piper.

The good news is that you burn more calories when you work harder, so you can make up for the calories you’re not burning by being female by exerting more or engaging in a more challenging activity. For example, if you walk at a 3 mile-per-hour pace, you will burn only 210 calories per hour, but if you step it up to a 4 mile- per-hour pace, you will burn 318 calories instead.* To increase calorie consumption even further, you could walk longer than an hour, faster or engage in a more vigorous activity, such as running.

Running receives the highest accolades when it comes to calorie consumption. According to the Fitness Partner Connection website (, a 140 pound individual will burn 572 calories per hour running an 11.5 minute mile and 891 calories running a 7 minute mile. Swimming (up to 700 calories/hour), jumping rope (636 calories/hour), the stair step machine (572 calories/hour), stationary rowing (540 calories/hour) and bicycling (up to 636 calories/hour) are other big calorie burners that are less traumatic on the body than running.*

Calories are most efficiently burned by performing continuous exercise for a long duration, such as running, swimming, cycling or walking. With running or walking, you can use miles per hour to calibrate calories burned. Fitness classes such as step aerobics, low impact aerobics, water aerobics and dance can also qualify as good calorie burning activities, but it is harder to estimate caloric expenditure during these activities since the amount of effort participants put into classes varies dramatically.

When you take a class, the number of calories burned is dependent on how quickly you are moving, how many risers are under your step, how much arm and leg motion is occurring with each step. So try to make the most of each class, focusing on each movement to maximize caloric expenditure within limits comfortable for your fitness level.

In addition to regular workouts, you can maximize calorie consumption throughout the day by merely choosing anything that involves motion over idle activities. Instead of watching TV, opt for pulling weeds in the back yard. Instead of dropping into a chair at a party, stand up and mingle.

Unless you have unusually high metabolism, exercise is not a carte blanche to head for the all-you-can-eat buffet table. In reality, the 500 calories most of us burn during an hour workout won’t allow for much extra food on the plate. However, if diet stays constant as activity is increased, this daily deficit of 500 calories can have a huge impact on weight over time. Burning an extra 500 calories per day (a 3500 calorie deficit is required to lose one pound) can lead to a loss of one pound in a week, four pounds in a month or a whopping 48 pounds a year!

As we age, maintaining a healthy weight or losing unwanted pounds becomes more challenging, but being overweight doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion if a proper balance of exercise and healthy diet is established.

* Calorie consumption examples are from and are based on a 140 pound individual.

Mar 242010

Susan Dawson-Cook in 2009 Tinfoilman TriathlonPeople are always asking me about the latest 5 minute exercise plan and wondering if it will be the magic bullet to help them lose weight without time and effort. If you don’t believe the latest guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (which say 300-400 minutes of aerobic activity per week is necessary for most people to lose weight), an Associated Press release, published in today’s (Wednesday, March 24) Arizona Daily Star, should get your attention.

Research on more than 13,000 middle-aged American women over a 13 year period showed an average weight gain of 6 pounds over the 13 year period, including those who were on calorie-cutting diet plans. Participants who gained little or no weight during this time (only 13 percent) consistently exercised an average of an hour a day.

What this means for you? If you’re a female over 40, start blocking out 60 minutes a day to exercise (and then get out there and do it) or be prepared to fight a losing battle with the bulge. I’m over 40 by a long shot and I’m doing it. With a little discipline and determination, so can you!