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Beat the Lazy Season

Stay on Track

And if You Backslide ...

Sometimes there is no getting around the environmental barriers that hinder exercise, and you may have to settle for less. "If you're going to slip, try to at least do aerobic exercise three times a week," says Cotton. "If you think about exercising on one of the weekdays, say, Wednesday, then on both days over the weekend, that's really not too hard."

And studies show that decreasing the number of days you exercise doesn't hurt if you maintain the same intensity and time. For instance, in the early 1980s, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago had 12 exercisers run and cycle for 40 minutes a day, six days a week, at a moderately high intensity. After 10 weeks, their regimens were reduced to either two or four days, though they maintained the same pace and total duration. When tested 15 weeks later, all of the exercisers maintained the same aerobic capacity as when they were exercising six days.

If you weight train, you may be able to cut back with little repercussion, too. In a study published in the December 1992 issue of Spine, researchers at the University of Florida in Gainsville showed that subjects who had been lifting weights one to three times a week and cut back to once every two or even four weeks (without changing the amount of exercise per session), showed no significant decrease in strength for at least 12 weeks.

Like a lot of workout fiends, Chandler was surprised -- and relieved -- to learn that backsliding doesn't have to spell the end of hard-earned exercise accomplishments. "When I slack off, I assume that getting back into it is going to be painful," she says. "That attitude makes me put off the inevitable even longer -- at which point I probably do lose fitness." Still, this year she plans to try harder to stay on track. "I've already started hiking twice a week with a friend and we've made a commitment not to cancel on each other," says Chandler, "At the very least, I know I'll keep that up."

Daryn Eller is a freelance writer in Venice, Calif. Her work has appeared in Health, Fitness, and many other publications.

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