Work smarter, not harder, this semester

Cardio exercise, like running, can be more beneficial when combined with weight-training. (AP Photo)

Why not make this year the last time your resolution ever includes “getting in shape” and “losing a few pounds?”

Like diets, resolutions usually have a starting date and eventually an end date. Rather than make it a resolution, try to view every day and every meal as an opportunity to improve your health and reach your ideal body weight. No doubt living a healthy lifestyle is hard work, but start by making healthy choices into habit.

I won’t even pretend that I know the secrets to unweaving the willpower, motivation and determination that you will, without a doubt, need to meet your 2011 goals. However, I can offer you a few tips that will help you to work smarter, not harder.

First, do not rely on a deprivation diet. Yes, to lose weight you may need to restrict your calories a little bit more than normal, but this may be as easy as cutting out that 300 calorie caramel frappuccino. Think of it as cleaning up your eating. This is not the same thing as cutting out entire meals. Rather, eat small meals more often throughout the day to keep yourself energized and your metabolism revved up all day long. Believe it or not, it is possible to lose weight without being chronically starving. Sometimes the key is to eat better, not eat less.

Second, do not skip over the weight room. Cardiovascular exercise (running, biking, using the elliptical) is king when it comes to cardiovascular health; however, a combination of weight training and cardio is the killer combo for weight loss. Studies have found that although an hour of cardio burns more calories than an hour of weight lifting, the weight lifter will continue to burn more calories throughout the day. Weight training will also help increase lean body mass. Packing on muscle will increase everyday caloric expenditure and fat-burning capabilities.

Most importantly do not set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals. If your goal is weight loss, set weekly goals and aim for one to two pounds a week. This may seem small, but these pounds will add up and stay off! Do not tell yourself that you will go to the gym seven days a week if that does not logistically work with your schedule. Sit down with your new semester schedule and schedule in gym time as if it were a class. It is okay to start slow with a 30-minute workout two days a week and work on increasing the duration and frequency over the next couple of weeks. Your exercise plan must be sustainable, enjoyable and realistic for you. Be honest with yourself — you have spent your whole life getting to the size, shape and fitness level that you are at today; do not expect to change overnight. Aim to make long lasting changes and enjoy the journey.