Weight Loss and Maintenance by Al Coon

"With all of the important benefits of exercise, and the equally important drawbacks from not exercising, it almost seems like a side issue to mention the fact that exercise also helps you to lose weight."

"If you are like me, the greatest threat is not that that I will not exercise this much or that much, but that I will quit exercising altogether. "

" If you don't like getting up in the morning, you probably won't be able to stay with an exercise program that forces you to get up an hour and a half before you normally would. "

Al Coon Exercise

Carrots and Sticks

Think of how it was a few thousand years ago. Our ancestors spent most of their time hunting for food, and protecting themselves, in a world where struggle for survival was the rule, not the exception. There wasn't much time for sitting around and getting flabby. The genes that those ancestors passed on to us included a body design that was honed for action, not leisure.

When we exercise, the muscles that we are using will grow larger, and stronger. When we fail to exercise, our muscles grow smaller and weaker. We call this latter process, atrophy.

However, the positive results of exercise go far beyond muscle size and strength. Our heart and lungs will also be strengthened, and will perform more efficiently when we exercise regularly. The odds of getting a heart attack go down if we exercise often enough. Also, the odds of surviving a heart attack go up for someone when he has been exercising regularly previous to the heart attack.

Another benefit of exercise is that your digestive track will operate better for you. Exercise will help you digest food better and you will have a more regular system when you work out routinely.

On the negative side, it's because our bodies demand exercise that the unfortunate people who become quadriplegics also have a much higher mortality rate. (Sadly, 20% of them will die in the first 10 years after their injury, while only 2% of the general population will. Equestrian actor Christopher Reeve unfortunately joined that 20%, when he died 9 years, 7 months, and 17 days after his injury.) Without exercise we suffer serious consequences. In other words, we NEED exercise to be our best, and to sustain our highest level of health.

With all of the important benefits of exercise, and the equally important drawbacks from not exercising, it almost seems like a side issue to mention the fact that exercise also helps you to lose weight. But for most of those reading this, and certainly for the one writing this, weight control is a major concern.

Filling the Void

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. It seems true indeed. Outer space is nearly empty, but not completely so. It is estimated that there is, on average, one atom for about every cubic yard of space. It would seem that space is very sparsely populated, but not entirely uninhabited by matter.

Using an example closer to home, we have all used a vacuum cleaner around our houses. We throw the switch, and watch the dirt, lint, or spilled cat litter jump up the hose as its mouth comes near. What is moving that debris up the hose? It is "nature abhorring a vacuum" at work.

Inside the vacuum cleaner is a pump that removes air from a chamber, and exhausts it out of a port into your room (fortunately through a filter, so no dirt gets passed along). By doing this there is a low pressure zone created inside of the vacuum cleaner chamber. Here's the interesting part: the air outside of the vacuum cleaner now is at a much higher pressure than is the air inside the chamber, and so when the room air presses against the mouth of the hose, just like it presses on everything else it touches, it finds no resistance to its pressure, and so it flows into the hose with gusto. This creates a "wind" that moves briskly up the hose, and just like the wind you see outside, it moves the dirt and other items in its path right along with it. A straw, and your lungs, both rely on the very same air pressure, and nature's "abhorrence of a vacuum," in order to function.

In our lives, when we make a major lifestyle change, we have to remove bad habits from our lives. However, that creates "a vacuum," or "a low pressure zone" if you will, that will pull something in to fill it. If you don't provide something positive to fill the void, you will find that something negative will automatically appear to do the job. We don't just quit eating, and expect our bodies and minds to be okay with that. We have to give them something good in place of the excessive food we are giving up. We have to find good food to replace the bad food, and we have to get our metabolisms moving as they were designed to be moving.

Exercise is a great addition to our lives, and it can help fill the void. It may not be the complete fix, but it can make a very significant contribution to the final fix. It will leave a much smaller void to fill by other things.

How Much Exercise is Enough?


Before starting to exercise, get your doctor to give you an OK. Why? Because a heart condition can be hiding within you, especially if you have been leading a sedentary life. Hitting it hard right away could bring that condition into action and take your life. That is not what you want! Just a little care can really help! A doctor's checkup can reassure you, and give you an idea of where to begin your workout level as well. It is a small investment in protecting your life. Please do it!

Perhaps, as we are getting started, we should first consider our own personal makeup. What do we need to prime the pump? In other words, how much is enough to keep us doing it?

If you are like me, the greatest threat is not that that I will not exercise this much or that much, but that I will quit exercising altogether. This has been a real problem for me, for years! Some days, I just donít feel like exercising. These "tough days" must be dealt with somehow.

My first step is therefore to use the scheduling of my exercise in such a way that I will continue to do it. For me, that means not being able to put it off for a day whenever I want to. Once I start putting it off, I just keep doing it. However, if I have another exercise session scheduled tomorrow, and the next day, it becomes hard to merely postpone a session "until tomorrow." I actually have to cancel a session if I skip, and that is a little harder for me to do, because in my heart, I want to make this work.

I don't like just giving up, because I don't feel like exercising today. By scheduling enough sessions during the week so that I can't postpone one easily, I help myself to get out there and exercise on the tough days.

While we are on the subject of scheduling; it is also important to set your exercise schedule for convenience for you. If you don't like getting up in the morning, you probably won't be able to stay with an exercise program that forces you to get up an hour and a half before you normally would. If you are a night owl, use your evening hours for exercise. If you love mornings like I do, then a walk at sunrise is a glorious way to start the day.

You can break your exercise up into smaller pieces. You can do 30 minutes of exercise in 2 or 3 pieces with hardly any impact on your daily routine at all. Do all that you can to make your exercise something that doesn't tear up your normal life. If it is an easy fit into your schedule, you will be far more likely to stay with it.

How often should you exercise?

I would recommend 5 or 6 days per week. Here's why:

  1. You have to set a habit into place. If you wake up each morning, knowing that you are going to exercise sometime during the day, you will grow used to that idea. When it becomes a routine in your life, you expect it to happen, and so you are far more likely to just get it done. When you exercise on nearly all of the days, you are far less likely of thinking about "putting it off" until tomorrow, and this holds back the tendency to procrastinate. For me, that is extremely important.

  2. When you are looking to lose weight, more days of exercise add up to more results on the scale! Exercise cranks up your metabolism for weight loss. You not only burn calories during the exercise itself, but for hours afterwards, your body is burning calories at a higher rate. It is like spinning up a flywheel, and letting it continue to work even after you have stopped applying a spin to it. If you exercise again tomorrow, you will get the flywheel going again, even before it has completely come to a stop. In other words, you maintain a higher level of metabolism day to day, when you exercise each day.
I think that it is very interesting that Dr. Michael Colgan has said the following in his book The New Nutrition:

"At The Colgan Institute, we have found that for fat loss, five days a week for 30 minutes is much superior to three days weekly at 70 minutes even though the total weekly time of the three day people is an hour longer. In order to keep the metabolic rate churning, frequent exercise is the key."

From this it would appear that getting in some exercise at least 5 days per week will bring you more results in losing fat weight than only working out 3 days per week would. Remember our ancestors. They had to work at survival a lot more than only 3 days per week.

For serious exercise, it is important to take a day off each week. So, I definitely do not recommend 7 days a week for your exercise plan, especially if you are doing anything strenuous. Your body needs to heal up and regenerate tissues that are damaged during heavy exercise. Moderation in all things is a wise thing to keep in mind. Five days a week would be a great goal to set in place, and six days would be as good or perhaps better. But make sure that you take a day off every week too.

What Exercise Can I Do?

What you are looking for is any exercise that will break a sweat for you, and that lasts for 30 minutes or more. That could come to a two mile walk for you perhaps. There are many sports that are excellent exercise. Tennis, racquetball, and basketball come immediately to mind.

Swimming is a great workout, and it is easier on your joints than jogging is. Dr. Kenneth Cooper points out in his book The Aerobics Program For Total Well-Being that it is physically possible for a swimmer to swim 10 miles per day, with little chance of injury, and thereby get the equivalent aerobic workout as a jogger who ran 300 miles per week, while on the other hand, should the jogger attempt it, he "could be expected to seriously damage the bone and joint system in the process." Dr. Cooper does point out that swimmers have to take care to prevent ear and eye infections, and perhaps sinus problems.

One thing that Dr. Cooper does not deal with, that might hold some of us back, is that the swimming attire is not the most comfortable way to appear in public when we are just getting started on a weight loss journey. It is easy to say, "Just forget it." But that is very good advice nonetheless. Once in the water, we are all just swimmers, and there is no sport available year-round that will give you a better cardio workout, because swimming uses all of your major muscle groups!

Another option for exercise is competitive sports; it is hard to find anything that can top them for enjoyment, and when you have to be there to play a scheduled sporting event, you are far less likely to skip your exercise session.

Walking For Those Who Don't Like Sports
(or even for those who do)

Okay, I'll admit it, I am partial to walking. Walking is great exercise, and almost anyone can do it. Unlike many exercises, you can adjust your physical output quite precisely with your pace to match your current physical conditioning level. Under a doctor's supervision, even people who have heart conditions can sometimes use a limited walking regime to assist in combating their condition.

Whenever you start out on any sort of exercise program, do two things:

  • FIRST -- check with your doctor, and then
  • Start out SLOWLY.

With walking begin by walking a short distance. Walk slowly, and don't push it. The next time out, if you felt good the first time, add a bit of distance. Over time, adjust your speed and distance upwards as your conditioning level improves.

This is a good place to remind ourselves that we are not going to rush. Rushing will only ruin your dream of creating a solid exercise routine for life. Rushing causes injuries. When you are injured you can't exercise. Going slowly keeps the show under your control. There is no way to get into great shape quickly. Take your time and all will be well. Only do as much as you can comfortably accomplish, and then you stop for the day.

Let's say you are starting off today, and you only walk one minute. If you add one additional minute each day, and you feel comfortable while doing it, you will be up to 30 minutes by the end of the month, and you will be unhurt. From that point on, you will be all set to continue exercising into the future.

The Fun Side of Walking

One of the really exciting things about walking is that you can do it so many interesting places. You can walk around Disneyland, or walk to the top of a mountain. You can walk through a mall, or through the downtown shopping district. There are probably many routes that you could walk right around your own home. By choosing the right place to walk, you can give your body the exercise it needs, while your mind gets to enjoy what's going by.

Hiking is a great way to get in your exercise while seeing some great scenery. Dotti and I have been hiking for years, and we started documenting some of the hikes at our Coon Family Hiking Club section of Dotti's Weight Loss Zone. When you are hiking in the woods, you never know when you take the next turn in the trail whether there will be a new stream, a gnarled old giant of a tree that is covered in moss, or a breath-taking view from a cliff top. When hiking in the mountains, you get the added benefit of elevation change, which increases your exercise intensity level. And since, for safety reasons, hiking is something that is better done in a group, you usually have some good company to share the experience with.

Another thing about hiking that Dotti and I have discovered is the feeling of accomplishment after completing a tough hike. When we climbed to the top of Larch Mountain we were exhausted, but we were happy that we had done it. After we had reached the summit of Hamilton Mountain, and the Angel's Rest viewpoint, we felt like we had taken with us something of value. Each trail that we walk adds to the list of ones that we have already walked. When you run into other hikers the conversation nearly always will run down the list of available hikes in the area and what you each thought of the trails.

Even walking around your neighborhood can be rewarding. I measured out a 3-mile loop that starts from our front door and returns to it. Along the way we pass through our neighborhood, out onto a fairly busy street, and finally out onto a very busy street, and then back into our neighborhood from the opposite direction. Over the years of walking this loop, we have watched the unbelievable growth in the area. We have watched them build a Borders Books, and a Red Robin, as well as a number of other businesses. One building we spent weeks walking past while trying to figure out what it was going to be. (It turned out to be a medical office building.) Taking our walks helped us to keep in touch with the changes going on around us, and seeing it in a way that driving never allows.

Another thing that I like about walking outside around our loop is the feeling of being in touch with nature. It wasn't until I started walking regularly that I finally felt the pull of the moon; day by day, watching the moon change its phases was fun. Feeling the wind against our faces was far more interesting than merely hearing it, safe inside, as it howled past our house. Even the rain brings an interesting change to walking, and with a good set of rain gear, with the exception of dangerous conditions, you can walk on the wettest, windiest day, and keep nice and dry, while enjoying the weather.

Hearing the birds sing, and seeing the changing foliage as you walk through the seasons, all add to the general pleasure of getting your exercise in by strolling through your neighborhood.

On the other hand, you may be more like Dotti, who prefers to walk on the treadmill. There are advantages to this approach. First off, you never have to walk in the rain. Big Smile Weather normally only becomes a factor when it is so severe that it knocks out power. In other words, you will have predictable conditions in which to walk.

There are other advantages to walking on the treadmill. You can safely do things that you cannot do walking outside. It is dangerous to close yourself in by listening to loud music when you are walking around traffic on a street. You need your senses to be fully alert. But on the treadmill, you can immerse yourself in sound without worry, as long as you didn't leave the iron on before you started. You can also listen to audio books, and take in a whole world of knowledge and entertainment, as you walk. As Stephen King unfortunately learned, it is safer to do your reading indoors on a treadmill than out on the street.

Dotti usually watches some of her DVDs when she is walking. (Now that they are offering entire seasons of old shows on DVD, they can be used to time your walking for you: one or two shows can be gone through per session. Or you can split up a movie and watch it in pieces during your exercise sessions.)

In addition to having a safe, and controlled environment to exercise in, you can also vary your workout in a controlled way, by altering your speed and your incline. This means that, without changing the length of time that you exercise, you can drastically change the amount of exercise you get. Walking faster will increase your exercise intensity level, and your heart rate. Increasing the incline on your treadmill will do the same.

Some treadmills have built in programs that will take you "over a course" with inclines and speed changes preset. Some will let you build your own programs that can be used over and over again. Nearly all of them will allow you to manually change your settings as you are walking along, and so you can vary your workout on the fly.

In 2003, my friend Tom and I had a discussion in the Men's Forum on Dotti's message board about treadmill workouts (see my journal entry for September 27, 2003), and how you could simulate certain real life hikes on the treadmill. We specifically were discussing the Multnomah Falls hike.

If you would like to practice for a hike, or just get in an equivalent amount of exercise as a particular hike would give you, all you have to do is find out the length of the hike, and the amount of elevation increase of the hike. Then you divide the elevation increase in feet, by the length of the hike in feet to come up with your incline number.


Multnomah Falls hike

Elevation increase: 800 feet

Length of Hike: 1.2 miles (6336 feet)

Percent of incline: 800 feet / 6336 feet = 0.126      OR   12.6%

So, if you walk on the treadmill for 1.2 miles at 12.6% incline, you will simulate the hike to the top of Multnomah Falls.

Having various workout routines can help keep variety in your workout so it doesn't become stale in your mind.

Another way to make walking fun is to walk with a partner. I can testify that my favorite walks have been with Dotti, and the time just rushes by when we are deep in conversation. Walking with friends changes a mere workout to a social occasion, and that can make all the difference between drudgery and fun.

A walking partner can also inspire you to get out and exercise on a day when you otherwise might talk yourself out of exercising. When you don't want to let your partner down, you have more motivation to exercise.

Start By Setting Goals

When you have a goal, you know whether or not you are meeting it. If you have no goal, you have no standard by which to judge your performance. So, we will start here.

Short term goal:
Once you have cleared it with your doctor, set your goal to do something in the way of exercise today. Don't jump in with a program that is too aggressive. Start with something that is reasonable for your current level of conditioning. For now, if you can only walk from your front door to the street, then your goals should be to walk from your front door to the street, at least 3 times this week.

Over time, you will be able to not only walk to the street, but you will be able to work your way down the block a bit. Adding a bit of distance as you can, you will work up to doing more and more. Move slowly and safely as you add to your exercise level. There is no rush!

Long Term Goal:
When you are fully up to speed, and you are in good condition, your goal should be to get in at least 30 minutes of good (breaking a sweat) exercise on 5 or 6 days per week. This will only use up 3 hours of your time per week, not much more than watching a single movie, and it will give you so much in return that you will hardly believe it.

Because of our genetic history, we have to exercise. It is the way we are built. If we do not exercise, we usually die younger than if we do exercise. This is a fact. If we exercise from now until then, we will almost certainly have a happier and healthier existence in our old age. We have certain nutritional needs for our bodies, and we have certain exercise needs as well. It is a hard universe, and if we fail to provide our bodies with what they need, we will have to suffer the consequences.

When you set your long term goal, remember to include not only the number of times per week you exercise, but also include a reward for yourself for getting in consistent and consecutive weeks of exercise. Consistency is critical to receiving the benefits from exercise that you deserve. Hitting it hard for a short time, and then lapsing, is actually worse for you, because you will probably injure yourself, and the only way to get long-term predictable results is to get your exercise in each week, and each scheduled day of the week.

I Don't Have Time to Exercise

Don't let yourself fall into this common piece of self deception. You DO have time to exercise. Take a moment and think about your day. Do you watch TV for as much as 30 minutes on 5 days per week? If so, you could use that time to exercise on your treadmill, while you are watching the television. (If you do not watch 30 minutes of television per day, you are to be commended, because most Americans spend an average of 6 hours per day in this sedentary pastime.)

How about reading? Do you read for 30 minutes per day; or would you like to? My 75 year old mother reads routinely on the treadmill, and of course you can listen to audio books while you are walking, if you don't feel like you can walk at your target speed while reading.

Is there any activity that you routinely do right now, that could be done while you are walking? Why not use that time to exercise?

To help set your thinking on track, put things in perspective by asking yourself this question: Is there anything that I am doing each day, that takes 30 minutes or longer, and that is less important to me than extending my life, making me healthier, and assisting me in meeting my weight loss goals? It is as serious as that.

You can find the time! Perhaps you can get up a half-hour earlier to exercise, if you are a morning person. (When Dotti lost her weight in 1998, I was amazed to see her get up at 4:30AM to go exercise. She is not a morning person, but it worked miracles for her weight loss program.) If you favor the nighttime hours, maybe you can finish your day's duties a half-hour earlier so you can exercise. Perhaps you can give up a television show, or a trip to the mall, or anything else out of your day that would free up 30 minutes.

If you put the right value upon your exercise goals, you will find the time to get it done. We can always find the time for 30 minutes of something that we value greatly. We make time to do what we want to do. You can do that for exercise too!

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