Following your road map to fitness

The road to fitness starts with a goal–and a plan. Here’s how to make sure you reach the finish line.


Which of the following do you think the majority of teens do nearly every day?

  1. Use a computer
  2. Eat fast food
  3. Exercise
  4. Play video games

All of the above? You’re close but not correct. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about one-quarter of Americans age 12 to 21 walk, bike, or do some other type of light to moderate exercise daily.

So, if you’ve been feeling like a couch potato lately, you’re not the only one. But think about this: You probably know that exercise helps keep your bones, muscles, and joints healthy and strong, and that it can help you control your weight. But did you know that exercise also can help you sleep better, ward off sickness, increase your energy, and help you deal with stress? Teens who work out regularly also report feeling more confident and ready to enjoy life.

Ready to get moving? Picture yourself biking the road to fitness. Along the way you can expect some hills and some flat and easy stretches. But before hopping on that bike, you need to create a fitness “map.”

Mapping Your Goals

Think about what you want to accomplish. Weight loss, muscle tone, flexibility, overall fitness, preparation for an upcoming sports season, and increased energy and stamina in daily life are possibilities. Narrow your list to one or two goals to concentrate on. Start with too many and you may not accomplish any! Your goals determine how often you need to exercise, as well as how long and intense to make each workout.

Be realistic. According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, fitness is influenced by age, gender, heredity, personal habits, exercise, and eating habits. While you can’t change the first three factors, you have the power to change and improve the others.

Don’t expect to be anyone but you. Fourteen-year-old Christina, who lives in Tampa, Florida, says she “gave up trying to be skinny months ago.” Her goals are to build muscle, have more energy, and look and feel more fit.

Now decide on a time frame for your goal–remembering that it usually takes six to eight weeks to see results from a program. For weight loss, you don’t want to lose more than 2 pounds per week.

What small steps will help you reach your goal? If your goal is to tone your arms, you might aim to build endurance by walking with wrist weights, then challenge yourself by increasing the distance or speed over the next weeks. Next you might purchase hand weights for strength-training exercises, and, over time, use heavier weights and increase the number of repetitions.

Last but not least, decide how you’ll reward yourself for meeting each goal.

Starting Your Journey

In planning your fitness adventure, decide what types of activities will help you meet your goals. Most programs include aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching. To maintain your health and stay in shape, you should work out three to four days a week for 20 or more minutes. More intense programs include four or more days a week for 45 minutes or more. Plan on at least one day of rest a week.

Decide where you’ll work out: home, outdoors, at the gym, etc. Then choose a combination of fun activities, Christina’s routine, for example, includes rollerblading, walk-jogs (especially after dinner, with her dog), strength training with her mom, crunches, push-ups, and kick-boxing videos. She finds the videos really help to relieve stress: “I pretend I’m punching away all my annoyances from that day.”

Put some thought into when you’ll work out, too. Working out in the morning makes many people feel more alert during the day. (Studies have shown that early birds are more likely to stick to their programs, too.) Whenever you decide to work out, make exercise one of your top priorities.

Climbing the Hills


Just as you’ll encounter hills on a bike ride, you’ll find that you don’t always coast through your exercise program. Here are some common pitfalls and tips for conquering those “hills”:

* No time. Can’t squeeze a complete workout into your overpacked schedule? Consider this: A study found that people trying to lose weight could break workouts into, segments as short as 10 minutes throughout the day and still have the same success as those who were able to complete their workouts all at once. Work to incorporate exercise into your daily life. While talking on the phone or watching television, for instance, you could stretch or do legs lifts. Or, instead of chatting on the phone at all, you can meet your friend outside and take a power walk.

* Boredom. According to the American Council on Exercise, it may be time to shake up your routine when you start to cut or skip your workouts. Try modifying your program — such as switching from step aerobics to cardiofunk. If that doesn’t motivate you, challenge yourself with an activity you never thought you would try. Or, if you usually work out alone, try a team sport or join a local biking club, tennis league, or other group activity. Better yet, find a workout buddy–you can each come up with workout ideas. Seventeen-year-old Kelly, from Houston, Texas, likes to work out with her brother, a personal trainer, who helps keep her motivated.

* Change in seasons or weather. Always have alternate activities in mind for those rainy or cold days. Replace your usual run with a power walk around the mall or with jumping rope at home.

* Injury or illness. Don’t assume that your exercising days are over if you get hurt or sick and can’t stick to your regular routine. Kelly recently broke her ankle and tore her Achilles tendon. “I can’t run … until it heals,” she explains, “but I do walk, bike, and do weights.” If you are being treated for illness or an injury, ask your doctor to help you come up with a modified program that’s right for you.

With goals in mind and a plan in place, you’re on the road to fitness success. “You just have to keep telling yourself that it’s possible,” says Diana, a 14-year-old from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, whose goals are to lose a little weight, get toned, “and stick to it.”

Attitude counts

Bummed out when you have gym class? If you don’t like taking phys ed, you may be setting yourself up for an inactive lifestyle as an adult.

A recent national survey of young adults ages 18 to 34 explored their attitudes about high school sports and fitness activities. Some key findings:

  1. 33 percent said physical education classes encouraged them to be active later in life. Of those who are currently “very active,” 60 percent said they were encouraged by gym class.
  2. 53 percent believe high school gym improved their physical condition.
  3. Only 16 percent thought the classes were a waste of time.

If you dread gym, strive for a new attitude. You might learn a new sport. You can clear your mind of the day’s stress. Have fun. You may even take yourself to a whole new level of confidence when you score on the court or field.

Back on track

There are lots of reasons you might break from your exercise routine, but there are also lots of reasons to overcome the slump. What might each of the following teens do to get back on track?

Bill has always loved the thrill of sports competition, especially basketball. But last year he suffered a serious leg fracture. His doctor said, “No more basketball.” Now he hasn’t exercised in months.

Sandy and Missy are doubles tennis partners. Their goal is to beat their biggest rivals this upcoming season, which starts in eight weeks. They haven’t played since last summer, but a dismal, snowy winter has left them unable to practice.

Kevin used to work out at the gym, but lately he hasn’t had time. He’s saving for his first car, and that means working at his part-time job after school and on Sundays. On Saturdays, he baby-sits his 5-year-old brother–who can never sit still. He’s exhausted.

What pitfalls have you had in starting a fitness program or in meeting your fitness goals? How might you get back on track?



No time to get to the gym? Exercise machines too expensive? Really rather watch TV? Enough excuses! With this workout, you can watch your favorite shows and shape up–without special equipment. Designed by personal trainer Lisa Simonsen of Simonsen Says in New York City, the cardio moves and toners detailed here do it all: sculpt your muscles, tighten mushy spots, and burn off fat. Do this routine four times a week for 30 to 45 minutes and you can expect to lose weight, flab, and inches in about six to eight weeks.



This is a fast-paced, fat-burning aerobic move (and you don’t even need a jump rope). Stand in a straddle, right foot in front of you, left foot in back. Place hands on hips for balance. Jump and switch legs in midair so that you land with your left leg in front and your right leg in back. As soon as you touch the floor, bounce back up and switch legs again. Continue for 20 minutes; work up to 30 minutes. Another easy fat-burning move: Jumping jacks for 20 to 30 minutes. (Or alternate between 15 minutes each of cross-country jumps and jumping jacks.)



This move works the triceps (the backs of the upper arms). Triceps are the upper body’s thighs: They store fat. Keeping them toned is key to battling arm bulge and wiggles.

A. Sit on the edge of a couch or sturdy chair and place both legs on another chair or ottoman. Placing arms on either side of hips, slide torso forward so arms support your body weight. (If this position is too hard, start with feet on the floor.)

B. Slowly lower torso down toward floor, keeping elbows close to sides, until elbows form a 90-degree angle. Hold for a count of two; return to start. Do two sets of 12 to 15 reps.



Push-ups are primo for shaping your arms, chest, and upper back (where bra bulge happens). Doing them on a windowsill (or sturdy dresser) hits these muscles at a new angle, for more even muscle development.

A. Stand as shown, hands shoulder-width apart on windowsill.

B. Slowly bend arms to bring chest to edge of windowsill. Focus on working your pectoral (chest) muscles. Do two sets of 15 reps each.



This weightless move looks easy, but you’ll really feel it in the front and back of your upper arms. You’ll notice toning effects in both arms and shoulders.

A. Sit with arms bent and apart; upper arms should be level with shoulders.

B. Keeping shoulders relaxed, squeeze arms together, so that elbows and upper arms meet. Hold for a count of two. Return to start. Do two sets of 50 reps.



To shape and tone thighs and to lift sagging buttocks, lunges are the way to go.

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Place hands on hips for balance. With right leg, step forward, keeping your torso upright (this eliminates pressure on the front knee). Be sure that your right knee is directly over (not in front of) your right ankle. Press down with right heel to push back to start, squeezing buttocks on the way up. Do three sets of 15 reps. Switch legs and repeat.



A great workout for the thighs. (Hint: Do it as you watch TV–you’ll need the distraction!) Press your body against a wall with feet hip-width apart. Slide down into a sitting position (knees should bend no more than 90 degrees.) Hold for thirty seconds to three minutes; stand and rest for one minute, then repeat. Build up the time you spend “sitting.”


POP UP, A. Lie on your back, legs in the air, knees over your hipbones. For stability, hold onto the underside of a couch.

B. Contract your abdominals (pretend someone just socked you in the stomach). Then, curl your tailbone up, lifting pelvis off the floor. Don’t pull with your arms–that’s cheating! Hold for a count of two and then slowly lower to start. Do two sets of 20 reps.

Sports drinks for the active

Drinking fluids is necessary to prevent dehydration, especially before, during and after exercise. Water is best for replacing fluids when exercising an hour or less. Sports drinks containing 8% carbohydrates stimulate fluid absorption, replace sodium lost in sweat and provide energy.

waterYou’ve seen the ads on TV with hard-playing, sweat-drenched athletes chugging down a sports drink. Heavily promoted by famous–and not so famous–sports figures, the ads imply endless energy and powerful performance for even the average athlete. How do these drinks rate nutritionally? And, how well do they really deliver on performance and energy?

Our Body of Water

About 60 percent of our body weight is water. Fluid flows through miles of arteries, bathing cells with nutrients and carrying away waste products. Fluid, essential to so many body functions, is within and around body cells. Fluid helps cells absorb minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and glucose. It also gets rid of excess heat and helps to cool the body by producing sweat. Too little fluid means your body can’t perform these functions effectively and limits your ability to perform at your maximum potential.

Fluid Math for the Average Person

Anyone engaged in physical activity needs to make sure lost fluids are replaced. Even the nonathletic have fluid needs. The body of a sedentary male weighing about 150 pounds holds about 45 quarts of fluid. in a temperate climate, he will lose about 3 quarts of fluid per day. Take him to the desert, and he’ll lose 1 0 quarts or more! If he drinks the recommended 8 cups (2 quarts) of fluid per day, that will just about meet his needs in the temperate zone. (The other quart is supplied by food, especially fruits and vegetables.) But when he travels to the desert, he’ll need to pack a water bottle–a large one.

A sedentary 120-pound woman has about 36 quarts of fluid and loses about 2.5 quarts per day in a temperate climate. In the desert, her daily loss goes up to 8 quarts plus. If we give our average man and woman some physical activity to do, their fluid loss will increase by about a quart per hour, depending, of course, on body size and how much they sweat. If they add special equipment for an activity such as hockey or football, fluid loss will be even greater. Athletes can easily sweat off 5 to 8 pounds in hot weather. The weight loss is water, not fat !

Dehydration is defined by medical professionals as fluid loss of more than 1 percent of body weight. For our average man, that’s a fluid loss of 1.5 pounds (3 cups). A loss of 2 percent of his body weight (3 pounds or 6 cups) will result in a 20 percent drop in physical performance. He will be at risk for heat exhaustion if he loses 4 percent of his body water (6 pounds or 12 cups). You can prevent dehydration by drinking fluids before, during, and after physical activity.

  • Two hours before physical activity: Drink 2-3 cups.
  • Five to 15 minutes before: Drink 1-2 cups.
  • During physical activity: Drink 1/2 to 1 cup every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • After: Drink 2 cups for every pound of weight loss.

Thirst can be an unreliable guide for fluid replacement. You may already be dehydrated by the time you feel thirsty. Just to be safe, drink a little more once you’ve quenched your thirst.

What to Drink

Water is the ideal fluid replacement, especially for exercise lasting less than one hour. Drinking water is the easiest and least expensive way to replenish fluids. During longer physical activity, sports drinks can aid performance. Drinks containing up to 8 percent carbohydrates are absorbed at the same rate as water. Recent studies reported that carbohydrates, such as glucose, glucose polymer, and sucrose, actually stimulated fluid absorption. The carbohydrates also provide an energy boost for high-intensity workouts. Endurance athletes depend on sports drinks to replenish energy stores as well as replace fluid loss.

carbohydratesSports drinks also replace the sodium lost in sweat. Although only a small amount is required, the sodium in sports drinks enhances fluid absorption by the body. Research has shown that athletes drinking a beverage containing sodium drink more fluids. Water doesn’t seem to have the same effect.

What to Look for in a Sports Drink

* Glucose, glucose polymer, or sucrose is the main ingredient.
* Contains 5 percent to 8 percent carbohydrates (12 to 20 grams carbohydrates in 8 ounces).
* Sodium content is 50 to 110 milligrams per 8 ounces.
* Fruit juice and carbonated sodas are too rich in carbohydrates and can cause stomach cramps and nausea.

CAUTION. Certain sports drinks contain fructose as the main carbohydrate source. This sugar may
cause cramping and bloating during exercise.

  • If you want to use fruit juice, dilute one cup of juice with one cup water.
  • Avoid caffeine-containing beverages such as tea, coffee, and cola. Caffeine will dehydrate your body even more.

Choose the drink that works best for you during your high-performance workouts.

Sports Drinks Comparison chart

Beverage    Carbohydrates   Sodium   Carbohydrate Source
Allsport        20 grams     55 mg   High-fructose corn syrup
Gatorade        14 grams    110 mg   Sucrose, glucose, fructose
Powerade        19 grams     55 mg   High-fructose corn syrup
Exceed          16 grams     50 mg   Glucose polymer, fructose
Per 8-ounce serving