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Choosing a cardio program to start the new year

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It's that time of year again, New Year's Day when we start to notice the toll of the holiday feasts on figures and waist lines.

With the past year safely in the rear view mirror and facing the blank slate of a brand new year once again, many resolve that it is time to get serious about dropping a few pounds and getting fit.

It's no surprise then that on any list of most popular New Year's resolutions, to lose weight and get fit is always at the top every year.

While focusing on eating a healthy diet is an important part of the equation, starting a sensible aerobic (also known as cardio) exercise program is also essential.

Not only does exercise help you lose weight it also helps to strengthen the cardiovascular system. As noted by Dr. Gordon Blackburn, Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic, an effective aerobic exercise program must have four components;

  • The exercise activity must involve the large muscle groups repetitively for a sustained amount of time;
  • You should exercise 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week;
  • The exercise activity meets the cardiovascular goals your doctor or exercise physiologist has prescribed for you; and
  • The activity is something you will enjoy doing for an extended period of time.

It goes without saying that if you enjoy something, you're more likely to continue doing it. Don't simply choose the latest exercise routine because it's popular or the latest fitness fad.

Especially if you haven't exercised in a while, now is probably not the time to jump into the high-intensity interval training craze. Choose something that won't feel like a chore. That is how an exercise program can turn into a healthy habit.

There are lots of exercise activities to choose from but it is hard to beat a good walking program especially to get a fitness habit jump started. It doesn't require any specialized equipment or a membership to the local gym - just a good pair of walking shoes and some comfortable workout clothes.

There are several solid plans to choose from. Runner's World magazine has a 7-week walking plan for beginners and the American Heart Association has a similar 6-week plan. Both gradually increase the amount of amount of time you will spend walking.

The Runner's World plan takes you from walking 15 minutes on the first day to 60 minutes on the final day of week 7. The AHA plan is less demanding, starting with 10-20 minutes on the day you start the program and increasing to 25-35 minutes on the last day.

For those looking for something a little more challenging and who would eventually like to graduate to a walking or jogging program, consider the starting Josh Clark's tried and true Couch to 5K program. It's a 9-week program with 3 scheduled workouts per week, following a run/walk system. Those who complete the program should be able to jog continuously for 30 minutes at the end of week 9.

After completing a 6-9 week low-intensity program to get started, you can then continue the same activity and simply increase the pace or duration to keep increasing your cardio efficiency or you can step up to a more challenging workout program.

The key is just to get started and to stay committed to completing daily workouts 3-5 days per week. Just about the time to decide whether to stick with a program or graduate to something new, you should be seeing progress on the weight front which should give you a little kick of extra motivation to keep going.

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