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QUESTION: I want to begin an exercise program but really don't have time to take an hour out of my day right now. I could walk to and from work, which would take about 15 to 20 minutes each way, but I don't know if this would be as good as exercising for 30 to 45 minutes at one time. Please give me some advice about this because I am getting further out of shape every day.

ANSWER: I am convinced that the only way a person will ever be successful in starting and maintaining an exercise program is to find a time that fits into his/her schedule in such a way that it does not interfere with other things that must be done. Walking to and from work may be that time for you. If you can do that as a natural part of your schedule, you will probably continue for the rest of your life.It would probably be a little better physiologically to dress down for some more formal program, but you may soon feel that you didn't have time for the program and stop exercising all together. The schedule for my exercise program varies according to the time of year; in the summer I like to exercise early in the day before it gets too hot. In the winter, I usually exercise at noon, before lunch. Whatever time best fits your schedule will be the best in terms of maintaining the program, and consistency is the key to a successful program.

QUESTION: I have difficulty getting up to my heart rate training zone when I exercise. Should I work harder even though it feels like I am straining when I do? I am using the heart rate guidelines from your "Fat Thermostat" book. Thank you.

ANSWER: The heart rate tables in any book are based on norms from hundreds of people. The maximum heart rate for two-thirds of us will be within plus or minus 10 beats of the predicted maximum heart rate from which these tables are made. This means that a third of us will be either below or above the norm. My guess is that you can work at a heart rate lower than shown on the tables and still get a good workout.

Because of the wide variation in normal heart rate during work, many exercise physiologists use a "rating of perceived exertion (RPE)." In essence, RPE allows you to choose a level of exercise that "feels" good to you. One RPE scale uses numbers that correspond to approximate heart rates when a zero is added. For instance, the number 7 corresponds to 70 beats a minute and the "rating" is "extremely light." An RPE rating of 17 corresponds to about 170 beats per minute and the rating for this level of work is "very hard." Most of us enjoy work when the rating is between 11, "fairly light," and 15, "hard." I usually feel a level of about 13, or "somewhat hard" when I exercise.

I would suggest that you work with the RPE idea and choose a level of work that feels comfortable but still causes you to breathe fairly hard and sweat moderately. Then, you can forget about the heart rate guidelines that don't seem to fit you properly.