Skip to Content


Exercise tips for a better body

Focused on Health - January 2014

by Brittany Cordeiro

Want to be fit and lean without spending hours exercising? Get smart about your workout.  exercise lunge

“The time of day you exercise, the type of exercises you do and how consistent you are matters,” says Carol Harrison, a senior exercise physiologist at MD Anderson. Choosing the right foods before and after you exercise also plays a role in how much your body benefits from your workout.

And getting the most out of your workout can help you stay at a healthy weight, feel less stressed and strengthen your immune system. Staying active also reduces your risk for many cancers. This includes colon, breast and endometrial cancers.

So, whether your goal is to fit into your skinny jeans or get stronger, Harrison offers these healthy exercise habits.

Exercise in the morning

The ideal time of day to exercise is when you have the most energy. For most people, this is early in the morning or before 10 a.m.  

“A morning workout gives you energy for the day and jumpstarts your metabolism, helping you burn calories all day long,” Harrison says. Research also shows that morning exercise can help regulate your appetite and prevent overeating throughout the day.

Exercise at least three times a weekexercise calendar

“To improve your fitness and health, exercise three to four days each week,” Harrison says.  Aim for at least two and a half hours of moderate aerobic exercise or an hour and 15 minutes of more vigorous aerobic exercise each week to help lower your cancer risks. 

Include strength training exercises two to three days each week, but don’t do your full body two days in a row. Your muscles need time to recover. You can do aerobic exercises every day. (See Harrison’s sample workout below).

Add circuit training to short workouts

Short on time? Try moderate to high intensity circuit training to get the most exercise benefits. Harrison recommends this routine:

Workout time: About 45 minutes
5 minute warm-up

Part 1: 4 strength training moves – 10 to 12 reps of each 

  • MOVE 1: Squat with shoulder press
  • MOVE 2: Push-ups
  • MOVE 3: Triceps extension
  • MOVE 4: Lunge with bicep curl

Part 2: 5 minutes of moderate to high intensity cardio

Repeat this circuit three to five times, every other day of the week.
At the end of your workout do 5 minutes of a light aerobic cool-down and a few simple stretches.

“This routine should keep your heart rate elevated to improve your cardiovascular health,” Harrison says.  And, the strength training exercises helps you prevent muscle mass loss, build bone density and increase the rate at which your body burns calories to keep you at a healthy weight.

If you’re new to exercise, do one to two circuits the first few weeks. You also can use light weights or your body weight. For a more advanced workout, do the circuit five days a week, alternating upper and lower body strength training exercises every other day.

READ ALSO:  Your weekly exercise plan

Choose the right fuelexercise snack

What you eat before and after you exercise can boost your results and energy level. Two to four hours before exercising, choose complex carbohydrates like those found naturally in whole grains. And, drink lots of water.

About 20 minutes before you exercise, eat a low-calorie protein and carb snack like a small banana, an apple and peanut butter, or a small cup of protein-packed Greek yogurt. Skip the energy bars or drinks.

Within 60 minutes of finishing your workout, eat lean protein, like fish, chicken and beans, and iron. Both help rebuild and replenish your muscles, and fight off fatigue.

READ ALSO: Foods to fuel your workout

Make a plan

At the beginning of the week choose the days and times you plan to exercise. A plan helps make exercise part of your lifestyle, not just a New Year’s resolution.

“Exercise is a mental and physical challenge, but you can do it,” Harrison says.  Start simple, be patient, try new exercises every four to six weeks and have fun.

The more fit you are, the better you’ll look and feel. Plus, you’ll be in better shape to fight off diseases like cancer.  

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest on protecting your body from cancer. 


Hungry for a healthier diet?

© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center