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Make it a habit you won't break

Fitness experts share their secrets

With her cut arms, six-pack abs and seemingly endless energy, Charli Nesbitt isn't your average mom. The 37-year-old still spends time picking up toys and making dinner for her active 3- and 5-year-olds after she gets home from work. Only it's her job to be fit. Nesbitt is a group fitness instructor at Tualatin's ClubSport, where she motivates hundreds of members to lift, squat and sweat every week.

With fitness on the minds of so many this time of year, Nesbitt is offering up some tips to make sure you stick with it, especially if you're like most and already have a life full of commitments. First, she says, it's essential to make exercise part of your routine.

'Make it a destination and put it on your calendar just like another appointment,' Nesbitt explains. 'There will always be something that will come up, but putting it on a schedule really makes it a priority.'

And if you really want to keep up with an exercise routine, get a friend involved. A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine found those who have family and friends who lead sedentary lifestyles, were more likely to be obese themselves. If your spouse is obese, the risk that you will become overweight also increases by 37 percent.

'When you have friends when you are working out, two things happen,' Nesbitt said. 'You are accountable to each other, and it makes it a more fun experience.'

Nesbitt has witnessed these social forces at work firsthand. The shared experience of exercising is exactly what has many coming back to her classes - some starting at 5:30 a.m.

'All of them are regulars, and they are expecting to see each other,' she says.

She warns not to let it be an excuse if your significant other or friends aren't interested.

'Introduce yourself to the instructor, who can then introduce you to more like-minded people,' Nesbitt explained. 'I can usually hook them up in class with someone who has something in common.'

Diane Barton, a certified trainer who teaches step, yoga and gentle paced fitness classes at Lake Oswego's Providence Mercantile, says even the most overscheduled should try to work in exercise in small increments. If you don't have an hour, try short bouts of intense exercises such as push-ups or arm curls.

'You might be able to find a window of 10 to 15 minutes,' she said. 'The benefits will be a little different because the longer you go, the more it helps improve your cardio endurance. But you are still going to be burning more calories.'

Barton says everyday tasks like scrubbing the floor can be beneficial if you remember to contract your abs. She also suggests making minor adjustments to start, such as taking the stairs, parking farther away, even using your office chair as a prop.

'Stand next to the chair and squat down but don't actually sit,' she said. 'You can also do leg raises by holding the back of the chair.'

People often give up on exercise because they expect magic bullet results or simply get bored, Nesbitt said. She recommends someone new to the gym begin by going two to three times a week with equal parts of strength training and cardio.

'If you are going in five days a week from zero, there is a physical response,' Nesbitt said. ''I'm sore' is another reason to talk yourself out of it.'

If you've been exercising and aren't seeing the kind of results you want, get a trainer.

'I always encourage people to treat themselves to a trainer,' said Nesbitt. 'You treat yourself to a massage or night out; why not have someone introduce you to a new exercise?'

On average, people starting out don't usually see results until three to six weeks, which is sadly when many decide to quit. Nesbitt says you just can't trust the scale.

'You'll see small changes at first, a change in the way you fit in your clothes,' Nesbitt commented. 'The scale won't necessarily represent what's happening because muscle weighs more. Pay attention to your shape.'

If you are still worried you'll be tempted to quit, Nesbitt says make sure you talk about your goals.

'Tell people in your life what you are doing,' she explained. 'I ran a half marathon last year and I told everyone so I could be held accountable.'

Barton says it may sound cliché but it's never too late to start a fitness routine. A group of 60- and 70-year-olds come to her gentle paced class three times a week for low-impact benefits.

'It has to be a lifestyle change,' Barton said. 'Heart disease is the No. 1 killer among women. You need to be getting that cardio.'

If you do miss a workout or two, don't let it stop you from getting back on track. Nesbitt says set realistic goals.

'People will apologize if they've been gone,' Nesbitt said. 'You are going to have your highs and lows. Life is about ebbs and flows.'

Links to group fitness classes:

Charli Nesbitt teaches group weight and step classes at Tualatin's Club Sport (www.clubsports.com/Oregon.)

Diane Barton teaches gentle paced fitness, yoga and step classes at Lake Oswego's Providence Mercantile (www.providence.org/Oregon/…/Fitness/FitnessCenter.htm).