Firm Up To Fight Flab?

I don’t want to lose weight! How can I lose flab and get in shape without losing a lot of weight? I like my size. I just want some muscle.

– August 8, 2003

Updated 4/01/2005

You don’t say whether you get any regular exercise at all, such as the daily cardiovascular activity I recommend for general fitness and heart health. Regardless of how much you weigh, daily exercise should be a part of a healthy lifestyle. I suggest starting off with a 10-minute walk five days a week and building up slowly so that you’re walking for 45 minutes a day, at least five days a week. This will burn calories and may result in some weight loss unless you increase your intake of healthy foods. It also will help to tone and strengthen your leg muscles, so you’ll be achieving part of your goal to eliminate flab.

To build some muscle in your upper body – your arms, shoulders, back and abdominal muscles – you have to do strength training. This means working with weights or on machines available at gyms and health clubs as well as learning to do abdominal exercises. If you can afford an occasional session with a personal trainer, I suggest finding one to teach you the exercises you need and how to do them safely. A trainer can also outline a program geared to your ability and goals. As with any form of exercise, the idea is to start slowly with light weights and gradually add more weight and increase repetitions as your strength increases. If you work with a trainer, consider booking a session every few weeks so that your progress can be evaluated and your program adjusted to your increasing strength. If you join a health club or gym, make sure that an experienced member of the staff instructs you in the safe use of the weight training machines and starts you off with exercises geared for beginners.

You can also learn strength training exercises from the many books on the subject. One that I’ve recommended is The Whartons’ Strength Book, by Jim and Phil Wharton and Bev Browning (Times Books, 1999). You won’t necessarily lose weight as you build muscle. As a matter of fact, because muscle weighs more than fat, your weight may stay the same or even increase slightly as the flab disappears and your muscles become toned and stronger.

A fitness program has three elements: the cardiovascular and strength training components I’ve described, plus stretching for flexibility. Yoga is a great way to stretch, improve flexibility and experience deep relaxation. Exercise can improve the way you feel as well as the way you look and can benefit your health in many other ways. Good luck with your flab fighting program.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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