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Nine Simple Fitness Tips

Dr. Weil enjoys a stroll in his labyrinth, but you don't need one to start a walking program. Learn how to fit a fitness plan into any lifestyle.
1. An Exercise for Most Everyone

Walking is one of the best exercises you can do - it strengthens almost every major organ in the body, promotes bone density, and boosts the immune system. It requires no special equipment, and just about anyone can do it. A brisk walk (covering about one mile in 15 minutes) can lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 30 percent according to some research.

Set aside an hour today to go for a walk - enjoy the changing colors of the leaves if you live places where it is cooler, or enjoy the temperate weather in warmer climates. Make it a point to keep your pace up, but stop and smell the flowers or chat with a neighbor or a new friend that you meet along the way.

2. Back Pain? Try Yoga

Chronic back pain - often due to poor posture, injuries, or muscle tension - can profoundly impact your quality of life. One way to help prevent further injury and lessen the symptoms of recurrent back pain is through yoga:
◾It engages your body, mind and spirit, which may lead to a feeling of self-reliance and control over your pain.
◾It provides long-term preventive relief, through improved posture, breathing techniques, and stress reduction.
◾It can make you more aware of your body - balance, posture and proper alignment will be a renewed focus in your life.
◾It strengthens your abdominal and leg muscles and increases blood flow - all of which can be beneficial for the back.
◾It can soothe your mind, which in turn can produce a relaxed, calm and meditative state that can lessen pain.

3. Belly Dancing for Fitness

Belly dancing has evolved from traditional forms of expressive movement to heart-pumping workouts offered in gyms across the country. Aside from working muscles that most people don't exercise in regular workouts, belly dancing is a great opportunity to learn about the music and traditions of other countries and cultures.

In general, dancing of any kind is wonderful for your body. Aerobic exercise promotes general fitness, conditions your heart and respiratory system, stimulates immunity and increases stamina. It also tones your nervous system, reduces stress, helps with balance and coordination, increases oxygen flow throughout the body and gives you a sense of well-being and empowerment. Dancing is one of the best aerobic activities of all because it's upbeat and enjoyable, and provides a thorough workout.

4. Exercise Away the Blues

Exercise can help address, prevent or lessen the risk of a host of diseases and illnesses - including mild to moderate depression. A recent study showed that walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes several times per week may be as effective as taking antidepressant medications or using cognitive-behavioral therapy. While moderately intense aerobic exercise had the best results, any exercise is beneficial. Even those performing low-intensity aerobic workouts and stretching can show improvement. I recommend walking, especially outdoors, for at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week. Try working up to this level for a few weeks and see how it affects your mood.

5. Getting in Touch With Tai Chi

Tai chi is a wonderful form of mental and physical stimulation, great for your overall health. The word "tai chi" refers to a perfect balance between the yin and the yang-the two forces of the universe. Those who practice tai chi perfect a series of balanced motions that flow into one another very smoothly and gracefully, while the body is held straight and upright. The movements are gentle, continuous, and circular, exercising every part of the body equally.

Tai chi is a great form of exercise, especially for those with osteoarthritis. It can help you build your leg muscles, strengthen your posture, and improve your balance, flexibility, and mobility. It also can teach you to relax and focus, even while executing the moves, and is a way to harmonize the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. In addition, it helps to develop concentration and coordination, and can reduce the risk of falls common with the elderly.

6. Shaping Up - Again

Busy lives, stressful schedules, poor diets, inadequate sleep, not enough down time and lack of energy. Sound familiar? With all there is to do in life, something has got to give, and often it's your fitness regime.

It can be challenging to find time to work out, but the long- and short-term health benefits make it a necessary aspect of achieving optimum health. Here are some tips to help you get back on the track to making positive changes.
•Start small. We've all heard the advice to park farther away or take the stairs, because it works. Set a goal to take the stairs at work every other day.

•Pace yourself at the gym. Everyone is there for the same reason, so don't be ashamed if you're going a little slower. Use light weights for strength training, and limit yourself to 2-10 minutes on the stationary bike when you first start out. You'll find that your stamina will quickly improve.

•Take care of yourself. Wear the proper footwear, removable layers or light clothing, and avoid dehydration by drinking more water than you think you need.
•Get encouragement. Join an exercise class, hire a personal trainer, or enlist a friend for morning walks. It's more fun if you don't go it alone.

7. Taming Trouble Spots

You're exercising, you're eating well, you're on track with your supplement regimen. So why won't those "trouble spots" disappear? Do you have love handles? Underarm flab? A paunchy middle? If you are determined to focus on those areas during a workout, your hard work will not be in vain. Even if you don't become rock-hard, your time in the gym will help shed extra pounds that can be detrimental to your health.

•Abdominal Fat: The key to reducing weight gain around the middle is to decrease calories. Improved posture can also help in the short run. Effective stomach exercises include the bicycle maneuver, the captain's chair (at most exercise facilities) and doing crunches on an exercise ball.

•Love Handles: There's nothing to love about these fleshy pockets that form around the sides of the waist, but you may be genetically inclined to get them. The best tactic? Lose overall body fat and skip the side bends.

•Flabby Arms: Shape up those areas with light strength training. Concentrate on moves that work the triceps and biceps, such as pushups or chair dips.

8. Yoga: The Exercise for Everyone

Yoga is an excellent muscle toner - it helps all parts of the body come into balance, including your internal organs. Yoga is also good for your mental health as it requires focus and concentration, even as it imparts physical benefits. Need more reasons to try yoga? How about these:

◾Yoga increases flexibility (and is good for anyone with chronic back pain).
◾Yoga promotes deep relaxation and stress reduction.
◾Children who take up yoga can easily become as skillful as seasoned adults.
◾For older people, it is a gentle, non-aerobic conditioner. For athletes, it can provide flexibility and centering.
◾No special outfit or gear is required for yoga - just loose-fitting, comfortable cotton clothes and a small area of floor space.

9. The Secret to a Slimmer You

Want to know the secret for successful weight loss? Eat less and exercise more. It's not always easy, but by adopting healthy eating habits and a regular exercise routine, you are sure to lose weight without depriving yourself of nourishing, satisfying food. For added inspiration, consider the following:
◾Avoid artificial sweeteners and synthetic fat substitutes. They are unhealthy and do not contribute to the development of good eating habits.

◾Dietary supplements or "fat-burning herbs" are usually just stimulants - don't rely on them. The pounds will surely return once you've stopped taking them.

◾Build lean body mass. Strength training burns excess calories and influences the way your brain regulates hunger, making you less susceptible to food cravings.

◾Pay attention to the mental and spiritual aspects of weight control. Use relaxation exercises - instead of food - to combat anxiety.

◾Accept your body. You may see it as less than perfect, but it is beautiful just the same.