Physical Health: Fun Ways to Get Fit and Trim

10 ways to get moving and shed pounds!

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 29, 2010

No time to work out? No time to plan healthy meals? Lack of time isn't the only excuse offered by sedentary people who need to lose weight. Close on its heels is another complaint: Working out just isn't fun, and neither is shopping and cooking "healthy."

Exercise and weight loss experts say they hear that all the time -- but it doesn't have to be true.

If sedentary Americans -- and that's nearly 40% of adults -- would adopt some fun ways to get fit, chances are good they will pick up the exercise habit for good, experts say. And once the exercise habit kicks in, eating better and losing weight come easier.

Getting fit and getting trim is often a "two-fer." It's difficult to get fit without eating right, and eating right makes it easier to get fit.

So forget what you learned in high school gym class or at the local health club about what it takes to get fit and eat better. Here are 10 fun ways to get moving and improve your diet. Why not pick one or two that sound fun to you, and give it a try?

1. Forget Exercise; Have 'Fun' Instead

If the thought of the word exercise makes you cringe, banish it from your vocabulary. Substitute "activity" or even "fun activity."

Exercise definitely sounds like sweat and work. "But when we think of 'activity,' it could be things we enjoy doing," says Fabio Comana, a San Diego exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. "You have options. It can be enjoyable activities with friends or with the family." Hiking, biking, urban walks, or playing outdoor games are just a few activities that come to mind.

2. Pick a Comfortable Pace for Fitness

Choose an intensity level from the start that's comfortable for you, not what your buddy or the exercise video diva says is the right pace.

"Generally speaking, folks who are overweight, out of shape, and sedentary tend to feel pretty bad even in response to moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking," says Dave Williams, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School and The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.

"There does seem to be evidence in the lab that if you have people walk at their own pace they are going to feel better than people who are walking at moderate intensity," he says. "We aren't sure if it's because they feel in control, or because they are walking slower" and not overwhelmed by the exercise, he says.

Research into self-paced exercise is under way. While waiting for those results, Williams recommends people try it. Almost everyone feels good after they've done any kind of exercise, Williams says. "The way you feel while you are doing it is more important" to long-term adherence.

His hunch? "The people doing the self-paced exercise won't find it aversive and will continue to exercise over the course of months or years."

3. Get Your Groove On: Exercise to Music

Music makes exercise more enjoyable and more tolerable. In a recent study from Brunel University in West London, music not only enhanced endurance by 15%, but also helped those working out get more pleasure from exercise. (They pumped to tunes from Queen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Madonna.)

In another study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers found that listening to a favorite piece of music decreases the influence of stress caused by fatigue, increasing the comfort level of doing the exercise.

The kind of music doesn't matter at all, says Stevens. The right music? "Whatever makes you want to get up on your feet," he says.

4. Lean on Friends for Fitness Support

Exercising with others -- an entire group or just your spouse or a friend -- can make workouts not only more fun but also more regular, Stevens says. "The social part sweetens the deal," he says. "Find someone you want to spend time with -- a friend, a family member. Make a deal with them, a blood oath to exercise with them."

A lot of people find they enjoy group exercise, he says. If you do, consider a hiking group, mall walking group, aerobics class, or dance studio.

In one study, researchers found that women who find it hard to stick to an exercise routine worked out more regularly and got better results when they worked out with their daughters.

5. Change Your Focus: Aim for a Little Exercise Every Day

Don’t get hung up on the length of each workout. Instead, focus on exercising on most days of the week, especially when you are beginning or resuming an exercise program, Stevens says.

"If you get into a pattern of daily exercise, it's easy to increase it," he says. The focus at first is to "show up," to do some exercise or activity most days of the week.

"The hardest part of increasing physical activity is simply getting started,” says Stevens, who works with sedentary and overweight people often. "My advice as a weight loss counselor: Make a deal with yourself. If you plan to exercise on a particular day, no matter how you feel when that day comes around, you will put on your exercise clothes and do at least five minutes. If you still feel bad you can stop."

"Most people are surprised that when they do this, they get in more exercise. Once you get started it is easier to keep going," he says. "And it's easier to increase the amount of time once you are in the habit of every day or every other day."

6. Double Up on Your Goals: Get Fit and Trim

If your goal is to get fit, you may also want to also lose weight or eat more healthfully.

If you think you can't do it all at once, think again. Research suggests that it’s often easier to make massive changes in your behavior than one or two small changes. One study in the American Journal of Health Behavior looked at 810 people with high blood pressure. Some were given two goals: to reduce their salt intake and boost physical activity. Others were given four goals: to reduce salt, boost exercise, reduce fat, and eat more low-fat dairy. Those given the most goals achieved the most.

7. Sneak in Healthier Cooking at Home

You'll have more energy to work out -- and you'll start to shed pounds--if you eat more healthfully. One good way to do that is to reduce total calories by reducing the fat content of your meals, says Victor J. Stevens, PhD, senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. Keep an eye on total salt and sugar, too. Try to reduce each gradually in recipes and favorite dishes.

"Often times the family will not notice gradual reductions in these things," he says. "You can just do it." He suggests keeping favorite recipes but de-fatting them. Put in less butter, for instance, or substitute fat-free milk for 2%.

8. Plan Meals as a Family

Comana in San Diego suggests involving the whole family in healthy meals. Ask your children or your spouse to help look for healthy, simple recipes. Make it a game. See who can find the healthiest recipe that's also simple, he says. Then plan meals together, letting everyone pick favorite foods or dishes.

"Take the emphasis off the food, and make meals more of an activity," he says, with the focus on planning and team work.

9. Make Portion Sizes a Math Problem

Reducing portion sizes is a fun and simple way to shed pounds, says Comana. "You don't need measuring cups," he says. Make it fun.

His suggestion: Put a typical size portion on your plate, then remove 5% to 10% of it. Is it a standard portion now, or still too much? Teach your children – and yourself – how to eyeball it. According to the American Dietetic Association:

  • 3 ounces of meat is equal to a deck of cards
  • One cup of pasta is about the size of a tennis ball
  • One bagel is about the size of a hockey puck
  • 1 1/2 ounces of cheese is the size of three dominoes
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is roughly equivalent to ping-pong ball
  • A half cup of vegetables is the size of a light bulb

10. Turn Your Children into Assistant Shoppers

As you focus on buying healthier foods, appoint your young children as assistants.

"With kids, it can be very effective to recruit them as helpers when shopping," Stevens says. "Most kids like to read labels and get to be experts about food."

Indeed, a trip to the supermarket can become a “healthy foods” treasure hunt. Let the children select the healthy vegetable or whole grain they want to serve for dinner. Encourage them to read labels to spot hidden sugars or fat.

“The more the kids are involved in shopping and cooking, the more likely they are to eat new things," says Stevens.

Show Sources


Victor J. Stevens, PhD, senior investigator, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Portland, Ore.
Dave Williams, PhD, assistant professor, Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, Brown Medical School and the Miriam Hospital, Providence, R.I.
Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist and spokesperson, American Council on Exercise, San Diego, Calif.
Ransdell, L.B. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, February 2003; vol 35: pp 286-296.
Young, D.R. American Journal of Health Behavior, May-June 2009; vol 33: pp 277-286.
Williams, D. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, October 2008; vol 30: pp 471-496.
News release, Brunel University, West London.
Yamashita S. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, September 2006; vol 46: pp 425-430.

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