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5 Exercise Dilemmas Solved

What to do when hectic schedules, aches and missed meals threaten to disrupt your workout routine

By Linda Melone

Minor aches and pains, scheduling issues and other concerns lead many people to skip exercise plans instead of figuring out a way around the obstacles. Below, top fitness experts share their thoughts about how to prevent some common quandaries from disrupting your workout routines and commitment to fitness.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Sneak Exercise Into Your Daily Routine)

1. You're about to work out when you realize you haven't eaten anything for at least four hours. What should you do?
Have a quick snack, but make sure it's the right one, advises Amy Goodson, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and the Dallas Cowboys' dietitian. Your goal should be to consume enough carbohydrates to sustain energy and enough protein to maintain blood sugar levels. "The best things to eat include quick, convenient snacks that will provide energy and digest fairly quickly," she says. Here are some good options:

  • 1 slice whole wheat bread with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
  • 1 banana or apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
  • An energy or protein bar containing 200 to 250 calories, 25 to 45 grams of carbohydrate, 8 to 15 grams of protein and less than 5 grams of fat.
  • A whole-grain granola bar, plus 10 to 15 almonds.
  • 15 whole-wheat crackers and 1 string cheese.

And this is crucial, she says, "Be sure to drink approximately 16 ounces, or two cups, of fluid, whether it's water or a sports drink, with your snack."

(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: Workout Foods to Fuel Your Boomer Body)

2. Your heart-rate monitor shows a higher-than-normal level during your workout. But you feel fine. Should you stop?

It depends. You can experience an elevated heart rate for a variety of reasons, says exercise physiologist Irv Rubenstein, founder of S.T.E.P.S. fitness in Nashville, Tenn. Dehydration, overtraining, a medical condition affecting heart rhythm, certain prescription drugs or stresses completely unrelated to your workout can all produce a spike.

"What you should do about it depends on the most likely cause," Rubenstein says. Emotional stress should never be a deterrent to exercise; in fact, it's probably a good reason to continue your session, since exercise helps relieve stress. If you believe you're dehydrated, cool down for 10 minutes, drink a cup or two of water and get back to your workout.

"But if the heart rate stays elevated longer than usual, especially if you can feel the pounding in your chest," Rubenstein says, stop what you're doing immediately and call your physician. And if you're experiencing other alarming symptoms, like excessive sweating or tightness in the chest, neck, jaw or arm, get to the emergency room.


3. Your knee starts to twinge during your workout. It's not preventing you from exercising, but should you cut your session short anyway?
Listen to your body. The normal strain of a hard workout should be familiar to you. But should you feel a sudden twinge in the knee, take it as a signal that something is awry. "You don't necessarily have to stop if the twinge goes away," Rubenstein says, "but your awareness is now heightened and should be heeded if it recurs." When the feeling is accompanied by a sense of the knee "giving out," locking or slipping, or you experience a loss of balance, that suggests a more worrisome underlying issue. "If ignored, it could cause a fall, accident or more severe event in the knee, acutely or down the road," Rubenstein says. So use common sense: If you ignore the twinge and it recurs, try switching to exercises that work a different muscle group. If it continues to recur, even after taking a few days off from exercise, make an appointment with a sports doctor or orthopedist.

(MORE: What Your Mystery Pains Are Trying to Tell You)
4. It's hot and humid and you realize you're out of water part way through a planned 60-minute-plus jog or speed walk. Should you turn around and go back?
Jogging in hot, humid weather without water is never a good idea. "You're better off turning around and getting water rather than risking injury or dehydration by continuing," says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends drinking 16 ounces (2 cups) of a cool beverage 2 hours prior to exercising in a hot environment, and drinking six-to-eight ounces of fluid every 15 minutes during such workouts.

5. You have only an hour in your schedule to exercise and you're already a half-hour behind. Should you bother? 
Yes! "You don't need a full hour to get in a good workout," Holland says. Five half-hour workouts in a week are more beneficial than two sessions of an hour or more.

(MORE: 3 Minutes of Exercise and Two Fasts a Week: Is This the Future of Fitness?)

For the most time-efficient workouts, practice interval training, which involves alternating short bouts of high-intensity exercise with lower-intensity periods. Several studies, including research recently published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, show that these workouts boost the elevation in metabolism known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which increases your rate of calorie burning for hours after you finish exercising.

For a quick and effective interval cardio workout, start with a short warm-up then alternate 30 seconds of jogging or running with 2 minutes of walking, adjusting the ratios depending on your fitness level. To incorporate strength training, follow two sets of weight lifting with 1 to 2 minutes of jumping jacks or other cardio and repeat.

Similarly, if you show up late for a spinning class or other group session and miss the warm-up, Holland says, join the group anyway. Missing the warm-up is unlikely to lead to injury. "If you arrive a few minutes late, just start out more slowly and warm yourself up, regardless of what the rest of the class is doing," he says. You can start out at half the speed or intensity of the others then gradually catch up.

Linda Melone is a freelance writer based in southern California. Read More
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