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Never has there been such a choice of exercise and activities to tempt us into action. From aerobics to pilates, t’ai chi to yoga, line dancing to Salsacise, there are so many options it’s not surprising that we can become confused.
But do they all do the same thing? Do they all help you become slimmer and fitter? The answer is simple. No, they don’t. They do very different things with a variety of results.
Aerobic means ‘with oxygen’ and any exercise that causes you to become out of breath and automatically take in more oxygen by breathing more frequently is classed as aerobic exercise. Activities include walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, Salsacise and, of course, aerobics and aqua-aerobics (aerobics in water).
Aerobic exercise does two very important jobs. It works the heart and lungs - that’s why we get out of breath - which is great for general health and fitness, plus it causes us to burn fat from our body. Great news for dieters!
When we do aerobics we, in effect, turn up the gas and burn extra calories. This is a tremendous help if we are on a weight-loss diet as it will speed up the process.
Even more important is the fact that regular aerobic exercise makes the body a more efficient fat burner in everyday life.
This is best described by imagining converting a car engine from a 1.6 litre to a 2.8 litre one – it will use more fuel to run!
All of us should do aerobic exercise on a regular basis for our health. If you go to a gym, aerobic apparatus includes the treadmill, stepper, cross trainer, bike and rowing machine. Classes include step-aerobics, dancing, aerobics and line-dancing. Spinning and Salsacise burn more calories than most other types of aerobics classes because they are faster.
Pilates, t’ai chi, yoga and body-conditioning classes are not aerobic. They will not make you lose weight nor will they burn fat.
You’ve heard the saying ‘use it or lose it’, well this sums up our muscle strength. If we don’t use our muscles regularly they will become smaller and weaker.
Challenge them regularly with strength exercises and they will become bigger and stronger. This doesn’t mean we have to end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger - far from it. Good muscle tone gives us a beautifully-toned shape and body strength to cope with everyday living.
If we don’t engage all of those fibres in strength activities, some of the fibres become redundant and disappear over time. Conversely, if we regularly use those muscles in exercises where strength is the issue (eg using weights at the gym or working with a strong resistance band), the muscle fibres increase in number to cope with the extra demand for strength. The result is bigger muscles.
This will not only give you a better shape, but it will also increase your muscles mass. Muscle is energy-hungry tissue so the more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate.
But doing 100 sit-ups a day will not give you a flat stomach if you are overweight and have a fat stomach! The sit-ups will give you strong abdominal muscles but you won’t see them because you have a layer of fat on top!
To lose the fat from your stomach you need to do aerobic exercise as well as follow a low-fat, calorie controlled diet.
Other strength and toning activities include Pilates, martial arts, multi-gym, free weights and weight lifting, as well as gentler, but nevertheless effective, body-conditioning exercises.
At the start and end of your aerobics class you will stretch to help prevent injury and aching muscles, but this also encourages greater flexibility of the joints and more elasticity of the muscles.
Whether it is reaching into a high cupboard, putting on a seat belt or doing up a back zip, we need our body to be flexible.
Yoga is recognised as perhaps the most effective form of exercise to enhance flexibility, though some of the postures could be considered controversial. Yoga is performed slowly and precisely with particular attention given to breathing.
Yoga will not make you slimmer or fitter, but it can help to improve balance and posture, so you look trimmer, as well as improving flexibility
In simple terms, if you want to lose weight your exercise needs to make you a little out of breath and you need to exercise for 20-30 minutes five times a week. It doesn’t have to be done in one session - three sessions of 10 minutes in a day is still worthwhile.
If you watch your calorie intake and combine aerobic activity with body-conditioning work, such as with a resistance band for 10 minutes three days a week, you will soon be the owner of a fit, trim, shapely and healthy body and one that HELPS you to stay slim by being an efficient fat burner because it’s fit!
So, what are you waiting for? Just do it!
This article appears in the April 2005 issue of Rosemary Conley Diet & Fitness magazine.
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