Want to be fit and lean without spending hours exercising? Get smart about your workout.
“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 week
“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 risk.
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: Four 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: Five 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.
Choose the right fuel
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. Make sure to drink plenty 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 that has iron, like fish, chicken or beans. Protein and iron help rebuild and replenish your muscles and fight off fatigue.
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.
“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.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.