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Top ten exercise mistakes women make (guest post).

Posted Jan 28 2010 12:01am

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Top Exercise Mistakes in Women

1)   Too much cardio: This can trigger the release of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone that in the long term seems to increase a person’s visceral fat- that is, the fat surrounding major organs that is particularly dangerous for our health.

2)  No weight training or not enough intense weight training: Women sometimes fear that weight lifting will make them more bulky. The truth is, a good, relatively intense program is actually beneficial in developing more lean muscle and decreasing subcutaneous (under the skin) and visceral fat.

3) Spot reduction of fat: Spot training to reducing fat in a certain place has no scientific basis.  When the body needs calories for exercise, it first takes it from muscle creatinine, then glycogen, the storage form of glucose in muscles, then fat from the whole body.

4)  Exercise is not a priority: Many women have many responsibilities and sadly, when push comes to shove, exercise is dropped first. But given the health and well-being benefits, exercise really should be a priority. And consider:  exercise can give us the energy and focus to get through our to-do lists faster.  Scheduling each day to be most efficient will make room for a block of exercise time, and there’s always a way to incorporate exercise into our daily routine.

5)  Total caloric intake is too high: Many patients come in with no sign of weight loss despite regular exercise.  Much of the time, the culprit is a diet too high in calories, specifically saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. Many of these women say they “never eat,” or they only eat one meal a day. This is a critical mistake.

Ideally, you want to graze on small, healthy, less calorie-dense snacks throughout the day as our ancestors did in hunter-gatherer societies.  This will maintain the sensation of feeling full, reduce impulse eating of high calorie foods, and prevent insulin and other hormonal spikes that make you eat more. Studies show that despite eating more frequently, the total daily caloric intake is actually lower!

6)  Poor nutritional support: Exercise is critically important for bone health in women. Weight bearing exercise like walking or weight lifting stimulates bone development and maintains or improves bone density. However, exercise is one half of the equation.

The other half is nutritional support. The osteoblasts (cells that stimulate bone growth) need calcium and vitamin D to do their jobs. All women should get at least 1500mg of dietary calcium and 400 IU of Vitamin D daily. Protein requirements work out to 0.8-1.0 mg/kg/day. Sufficient calories are also needed for optimal health, including reproductive health in women.

For example, a moderately active woman who is 140 pounds needs 2100 calories/day; 160 pounds needs 2200; and 180 pounds needs 2300 calories per day. See this link to estimate how much you need.

7) Doing the same exercise every day: Women love the elliptical and walking on the treadmill. I see women less on stationary bicycles, rowing machines, or stair steppers.  Muscle confusion is a key concept in getting and maintaining fitness. Switch it up as much as possible so your body doesn’t get too efficient at doing one exercise.

8) Cardio at too low an intensity for weight loss: Many popular magazines perpetuate the myth that low intensity cardio at 50-70 percent is better for burning fat and losing weight. They are only partially correct. Yes, fat is primarily burned at this intensity but weight loss and weight maintenance is more dependent on burning calories, not fat. Higher intensity workouts at 70-85 percent are much better calorie burners and thus better for weight loss.

9) Too much, too soon: It’s great to be motivated to start an exercise program but some women ramp up too quickly, get sore, or injured, get discouraged and stop exercising. Start slowly, especially if you have never exercised regularly before, and ramp up a tiny amount weekly. This is much safer and more sustainable.

10) No professional input: Most people don’t have all the health information needed to safely start or improve an exercise regimen. A sports medicine physician can clear you medically first and to develop a program that fits your goals and ability.  Personal trainers are also very helpful in this process.

About Dr. Rowan Paul

Dr. Paul, a sports medicine and family physician in San Francisco, is also a staff physician and blogger for, the Guide to Health on the Web.

He is an active triathlete, marathon runner, martial artist and outdoorsman who loves animals, good food, mechanics, car design and engineering and thinking about potential ways to fix our world.

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