This book talks a lot about being in great physical shape as that is our approach to health. There are hundreds of other things we can do for our health, which are all valid that I have not touched on here. Things such as massage, getting a colonic, acupuncture, chiro, physio, osteopathy, gut health, infra-red sauna … the list goes on. 

Most health issues these days relate to heart health and weight-related illnesses, which is why the foundation of peak health is being in great physical shape. Through my work I see people become lighter, stronger, more flexible, and have more stamina and endurance. I am yet to see a person in peak physical shape who does not feel incredible. This, then leads to the question—what type of exercise should you do?

You may think this is going to be a lengthy section of the book, and it could be. However, I am keeping it brief.

The best long-term exercise regimens are the ones that you enjoy. It doesn’t matter how good something is for you because if you don’t enjoy your weekly exercise plan, chances are it will not last long. If your goal is to live at a healthy weight, remember that nutrition is 90 percent of this. Exercise is just the icing on the cake. If you get your nutrition right, you can do what you like for exercise. Eating in the manner we have outlined in previous chapters of this book can get you to a healthy weight. However, it does not make you fit, strong, and flexible. Exercise does that.

Just one mode or method of exercise will never complete the entire health and wellness picture. If all you do is walk every day, you will lack strength. If you only lift heavy weights, you won’t work the smaller muscles and will run the risk of injury. If you only do yoga, you won’t stimulate your metabolism as much as you could by incorporating more resistance training. If you only do Pilates, you will get strong in a certain way, but lack strength in other areas. And if you have no balance or mobility, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, you will blow over in a stiff wind!

Many people have been conditioned to believe you have to smash yourself with high intensity exercise in order to achieve good results. You do not! There is a much smarter, more enjoyable, sustainable way to exercise. In fact, the higher the intensity of the exercise you do, the more muscle you burn, which lowers your metabolism, and your appetite will increase from the harder training. It’s not a good combination!

The Ideal Exercise Combo

I spent many years training fitness models–they don’t do 10-kilometer road runs. They do the right kind of resistance training, their nutrition is spot on, and they do low-intensity cardio. It is the perfect recipe for fat loss and having a wonderful body shape. Plus, it allows you to remain injury-free, and it’s a sustainable approach.

I meet a lot of people in their thirties, forties, and fifties, who have done years of high intensity exercise and are now looking for a more sustainable, low-impact, enjoyable, and body-friendly exercise regimen. It is a bit of a mental shift to do exercise that does not involve heavy weights or getting your heart rate so high that you are close to vomiting, and clients are often surprised when the results are better.

I see lots of people exercising 10 times per week and not only does their body not change physically, but also sometimes it gets worse. This is a function of the types of training they do and the way they eat. I also see people who exercise three or four times per week and have their nutrition spot on. They have amazing bodies and keep them that way for the long term.

To be in great shape, the three variables—in order of importance—are:

  1. nutrition
  2. resistance training
  3. cardio

Resistance training—as we’ve discussed nutrition already in previous chapters, let’s move to resistance training. One important recommendation in your weekly exercise regime is some form of resistance training. This is a broad term that involves placing your muscles under some kind of positive stress. The technical definition is to “expose the muscular-skeletal system to loads greater than those experienced in daily life”.

We can use our body weight for resistance, or weights, machines, bands … even yoga and Pilates are forms of resistance training. Weight training is a type of resistance training. “Resistance” is a broader term.

Resistance training is like the fountain of youth. Undergoing a session of this nature stimulates hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, produces collagen, and releases endorphins, which are positivity hormones.

Resistance training prevents muscle loss and stimulates the metabolism. Remember, one definition of metabolism is “the rate at which your body burns energy”, so it stands to reason that if we want to lose body fat, increased metabolism is a good thing. This is why anyone who wants to lose weight should be doing some form of resistance training.

I met a lady called Danielle, and in our first consultation, she told me that six months ago she went on a three-week juice fast and lost six kilograms. I didn’t even respond. There was a 10-second pause, and then she said, “In the following month I gained seven kilograms”. What happened is that her metabolism greatly slowed down due to the muscle she lost when she dropped the six kilograms on the juice fast. Next, when the time comes that she went off the starvation diet, which is what a juice fast is, and she ate normally again, she regained the weight with interest. One reason is because the starvation diet greatly slowed her metabolism. And the reason her metabolism slowed down is because most of her weight loss was muscle and fluid, and our muscle mass is responsible for our metabolism, and just a reminder that our metabolism governs the rate at which our body burns energy. Our aim is to increase that rate, now lower it by losing muscle! After that, it is harder to lose the regained weight due to the decreased metabolic rate. When we eat for weight loss, which is what most people do (and that’s ok), we need to couple this with regular weekly resistance training to avoid losing muscle. If you lose muscle, you can lose weight on the scales and still not appear any more toned. The goal is to lose body fat while maintaining muscle levels. This way you will look better, feel better, be stronger, and set yourself up for long term success by maintaining and actually increasing your metabolism. This is why you should lift weights if you want to lose weight. 

Incorporating resistance training in your exercise regimen while you are on a fat-loss diet is the key to preventing muscle loss. You aren’t trying to gain boatloads of muscle. It is simply that you don’t want to lose any either.  I see lots of people who say they want to lose 10 kilograms, and after a few months they have lost six kilograms, but they look and feel better than ever because they worked on their strength, maintained their muscle mass, and improved their body shape.

Body fat takes up three times more space than muscle, so if you can lose body fat and maintain or even gain a bit of muscle, you will significantly improve your body shape.

Most people have tried to lose weight at some point in the past, and more often than not, this involved some kind of dieting and calorie restriction, combined with cardio. This usually results in weight loss, which means the number on the scales reduced. But the big question is—what kind of weight was lost?

We can lose three things: fluid, body fat, and muscle. Our goal is to lose body fat, and along with that there is some fluid loss, which is generally associated with a decrease in water retention and bloating. This happens when sugar intake is decreased.

Many people who lose weight, lose up to 50 percent muscle, which is bad in the medium term when they go off the diet or reduce their exercise.  At this point, the weight creeps back up to the original weight, plus some more, and then it is harder to lose because of the way the metabolism has been negatively affected, as a result of the way the weight was lost in the first place. This is why resistance training is a key component of a fat-loss diet, and note the use of the term “fat-loss” diet as opposed to “weight-loss” diet. Resistance training and eating less is the best long-term weight management strategy.

Most people are focused on the number of calories they burn during an exercise session. In a challenging workout, you might burn around 300 calories. The massive benefit of a resistance training session is the way your metabolism remains elevated for the 36 hours after the session is completed, resulting in a much higher than normal calorie burns during that period, compared to not doing a resistance training session. Considering your muscle mass is responsible for your metabolism, if you can gain some muscle, you will also burn more fats 24/7 and be able to get away with a more relaxed diet.

If you are a woman, please do not worry about bulking up. It is hard enough for a man to gain muscle, and ten times harder for a woman considering women don’t have as much testosterone as men (and testosterone is a key ingredient in building muscle). In addition to that, muscle gain and fat loss are two completely different goals which require totally opposite nutrition strategies. If you are a woman eating in a calorie deficit it makes it even harder to gain muscle. So, don’t worry about looking like a bouncer at a night club! It’s not likely to happen.  Some body types can gain muscle easier than others, and these people can lift lighter weights less regularly. Muscle gain requires a calorie surplus, so if you do feel you are gaining more muscle than you want to, perhaps your calorie intake is too high.

What we are really aiming to achieve is muscle maintenance while we lose body fat, so we don’t end up being one of those people who lose weight and half the weight loss is muscle.

Most people I meet have a goal to lose a certain amount of weight. After six to 12 months they may have not lost the amount on the scales they initially set out to. This is because they have lost fat and gained muscle. However, because they lost fat and gained muscle, no matter the fact their weight isn’t as low as they’d hoped, they end up being in the best shape of their lives, and looking and feeling better than ever.

The majority of people I work with say they want to be “toned”. This means losing fat and maintaining muscle. If you lose muscle as part of the weight loss process, the scales will say you’re lighter, but you won’t be any more toned. You can actually be less toned and lighter with a higher body fat percentage. 

The big takeaway I hope you gather from the discussion thus far is that to get healthy and stay healthy in the long term, you want to lose body fat and not muscle. Resistance training is essential in helping you do this. 

Forms of resistance training include:

  • Free weights at home or in the gym
  • Weight training machines (the ones you load up with a pin or weight plates)
  • Reformer Pilates
  • Group exercise classes that involve weights
  • Yoga
  • Mat Pilates
  • Body-weight workouts

Cardio—the best strategy is to nail our nutrition and do some form of resistance training a few times each week. In addition to that, aim to be as active as possible! This is where the third part, cardio, comes in. This can mean walking, yoga, swimming, running on the sand, golf, tennis, hiking, horse riding, or getting a stand-up desk. You can be at quite the disadvantage if you have a job that involves sitting down for 40 to 50 hours per week. However, this is nothing that cannot be offset by eating less and moving more. Doing 10 thousand to 20 thousand steps per day pretty much solves 90 percent of health-related problems. 

Aside from looking great, one of the goals of wellness is to live with massive levels of energy and vitality. The irony of wanting to have more energy is that you have to use more. Another irony is that you have more energy when you eat less–not when you eat more. The body really is a case of use it or lose it, and I am mainly referring to our strength, our tone, our bones, our joints, and our ligaments. You can be a young 65-year-old or an old 35-year-old.

Some people ask if there is an issue with overtraining. I’m not advising you to shoot for the Olympics or train four hours per day. But I am a big fan of training frequently at a moderate intensity. Train daily, sometimes twice … It’s way better than the alternative of not being active enough.