New Year Fitness Guide for Overworked, Out-of-Shape Executives

Losing those holiday pounds, getting in shape and becoming healthier is on top of many New Year resolution lists, but accomplishing that goal requires different approaches for different people, according to David Harris, senior director of personal training at Equinox.

Harris shared some of his best health and fitness tips for overworked, out-of-shape executives, who spend long hours in the office, travel frequently, feel a high amount of stress and have limited time to exercise.

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If an overworked, out-of-shape executive wants to get healthier and fit tomorrow, how can he or she start?

The first suggestion is to actually map out for yourself what’s a realistic amount of time that you can actually commit to doing this. Number two, I would say that you want to select exercises and things that you naturally gravitate toward. So if you’re a person who enjoys running, start with that. If you’re a person who gets more enjoyment out of yoga or gets more enjoyment out of basic strength, then embrace those things. Always start with the things that you like, because the chances of staying committed are greater.

What’s the minimum amount of time someone can spend working out and still see results?

Depending on the activity you’re engaged in, you can get a lot done in 30 minutes if you’re really wise about how you’re organizing the activity. Three to four times a week doing 30 minutes would be tremendously beneficial for the cardiovascular system, as well as for flexibility and strength.

How can someone best spend those 30 minutes?

I think the most important thing is to do a dynamic warm-up...putting the joints and the muscles into a state of activity where they’re actually preparing for exercise, so you’re actually going to be limbering up all of the joints and all of the muscles and all of the tendons that are going to come into play when you do the exercise...A good dynamic warm-up can occur in five minutes if it’s done well.

The next step would then be to move into a series of exercises, probably most beneficial to think about them as some type of circuit, where you go from one exercise to the next. So maybe it’s groupings of three exercises, followed by a rest period....Very simply, you can do squats, you can do lunges, you can do push-ups, you can do side planks. You can do a variety of things that put the body into different positions and challenge it.

The end of the workout should consist of a bit of a cool-down, and when we talk about a cool-down, we’re talking about bringing the heart rate and all the bodily functions back into more of a stasis, and so the best way to do that is to do some basic flexibility that will allow the body to become limber, to loosen the muscle fibers and the joints that may have been tightened up in the course of the workout.”

What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about working out?

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that the harder you work the better. That’s not always true, particularly with cardiovascular exercise. Probably one of the most important things with cardiovascular exercise is to build a good base, to build a good aerobic base, and in order to do that you don’t have to work excessively hard.

What about nutrition misconceptions?

Probably one of the most overused statements of the last decade and a half is stripping carbohydrates out of one’s diet. Carbohydrates are essential for maintaining steady glucose levels and for maintaining energy in the gym. For any kind of activity, carbohydrates are absolutely essential. The question is, what are the best carbohydrates…Basically you want to stick with things that are whole grains and generally steer away from starchy, high glycemic index-type foods (i.e., potatoes, pasta). Things that are easily digested and assimilated into the body and convert to energy quickly (are recommended).

If someone is only willing or able to make minimal changes to their health and fitness routine, what should they focus on?

The easiest thing to really consciously eliminate are things that are high in sugar. The reason that you want to avoid those things is that they cause spikes and then crashes in your blood sugar, so that affects your energy level and your output and creates a lot of see-sawing throughout the day, so you want to eat foods that are going to maintain very stable blood sugar and are going to allow you to have a constant supply of energy throughout the day.

Flexibility is one of the most overlooked aspects of exercise. The reason flexibility is so important is that in the course of a busy day, we find ourselves sitting, we find ourselves on BlackBerrys, on computers, on all kinds of electronic devices that actually cause our joints to tighten, and so opening our joints and lengthening out our muscle fibers becomes very important to feeling like you have very good movement that’s fluid.

Cardiovascular for sure, and it’s very easy to get the heart rate to elevate with very simple exercises. For example, you can run on a treadmill, you can be on a cross trainer, you can be on a bicycle and certainly elevate your heart rate, but there are basic exercises you can do, even in yoga, that will elevate the heart rate tremendously.

Any parting advice?

I think it’s important to maintain a balance of discipline and be kind to yourself. I think one of the most overlooked aspects in exercise is really being able to plug into what you feel like doing on a certain day, so don’t be so locked into saying “Okay, today’s my cardio day; I have to do that.” If your lifestyle has dictated that you’re going through much more stress, and you’re not prepared to really put out heavily for a cardiovascular workout, substitute yoga that day.

Consistency is key. It’s not that you have to have a major victory every day, it’s that you have to be on the road to success. If you’re on the road and you’re patient with yourself, you’ll get there.

Cheat Sheet: Harris’ Top Tips

1. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
“Make sure you’re getting seven to eight hours a night. That’s very challenging for the average American today who’s often working long hours and is extremely challenged to get a restful night.”

2. Drink Plenty of Water
“Hydration is key, especially if you’re traveling. Airplanes suck all the moisture out of your body. This affects your joints, and it also affects your energy levels.”

3. Eat With Regularity
“Every three to four hours try to have good, clean foods that keep your blood sugar stable and keep your energy levels high.”

4. Participate in a Cardiovascular Activity
“This can be either steady-state cardiovascular activity that keeps your heart rate elevated to a steady level or interval-based training, which causes your heart rate to spike and then you have a period of recovery.”

5. Do Basic Strength Exercises
“These can be basic calisthenics, and you basically want to do things that are push-pull, so a push-up or a pull-up are good examples of those things, but work on full-body strength.”

6. Don’t Overlook Flexibility
“If you’re a person who’s sitting at desks for long hours or if you’re working on a computer or if you’re on a BlackBerry, your body is in a position where it’s compromised. So for example, when you’re on a BlackBerry, your neck is cranked forward, your hand is in a certain position all the time, your joints are actually closed up. Over time, this kind of stress accrues on the joints and creates a lot of discomfort.”