Many people make the mistake of thinking that the way to lose weight is to control what they eat – if only you could avoid those damned chocolate cream cakes, everything would be alright in the world! At the same time, these people often see thinner people scoffing those same foods and get very jealous: ‘why aren’t you fat by now if you eat like that?’

The answer, of course, is exercise. Exercise is a far more potent weapon against fat than changing your diet – it literally burns it off you. If you exercise enough, you can be burning more calories than you could ever hope to consume, leaving you free to fulfill that old diet promise of eating absolutely anything you want.

Sometimes people are put off exercising, believing that they don’t have the time or the money to join the gym or take some other form of regular exercise, but in reality it’s just not true. I’m sure you walk somewhere at some point in your day – jog instead. And you could no doubt manage a few sit-ups while you’re watching the TV of an evening. If you have a dog, take it for longer walks – this has the added bonus of making your dog very happy.

You see, the best forms of exercise are the ones you can do every day, like going up stairs instead of taking the lift, or parking towards the back of the car park when you go to the supermarket. These are easy changes to make that take very little time and effort, but can begin to pay huge dividends quite quickly when it comes to your weight. Then, once you’ve made that first step towards fitness, it’s much easier to find the energy and motivation to really go for it.

Ideally, an exercise program will not only help you lose weight, but will help you build muscle and stamina. You also want to design an exercise program that is balanced and exercises each part of your body.

Of course, if you are a member at your local gym, all you have to do is go to your gym, where you can easily do a complete body workout with just a few machines.

Some exercise options are:

Biking

Biking is an excellent exercise for losing weight, especially if you are not in good shape to start with. If you choose a relatively flat route and start out with short distances, you can start out very easily and work up to more strenuous rides. Be sure, though, that you are properly outfitted with an appropriate bike and equipment – visit your local bike shop for help and advice.

Swimming

Swimming is another excellent exercise for losing weight. It is not hard on the body, but provides an excellent workout. Especially if you are a novice at swimming, you should swim in a pool with a lifeguard. If you don’t know how to swim, check your yellow pages or ask around – you can get swimming lessons pretty cheaply most places.

Running/Walking

Running or walking is a great way to lose weight and get in shape, but it is harder on your body than swimming or biking. If you need to lose weight, you should probably start out with one of the other exercises until you get into better shape. Keep in mind that running and biking both work the legs, but they do work different primary muscles.

No matter what we would like to believe, there simply isn’t a magic solution to losing weight. The body will shed excess fat when it needs more calories to function through the demands you place on it in a given day than the amount of calories that you feed it. It’s that simple. So, in order to lose weight, you need to decrease the number of calories that you eat as well as increase the amount that you burn.

There is a wide range of options to choose from when looking for a weight loss program. All of them often spend a lot of time explaining what to eat, in what amounts and even at what times or in what combinations. But few of them emphasize the importance of exercise – not just for losing weight, but for your general health and wellbeing. Exercise is vital when trying to lose weight for several reasons:

First, as you start to eat less, your metabolism will slow down somewhat. Exercising helps to elevate your metabolism back to an efficient level.

Second, as mentioned, exercise burns more calories so that you can lose weight faster and stay motivated in your efforts.

Third, exercise actually releases endorphins, chemicals that keep your mood elevated.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean spending hours at the gym or straining through exhausting workouts. In fact, in order for you to stick with it on the long run, exercising should be something that you enjoy. Start by increasing your activity level in an overall way. Take the stairs when you can. And, again park further from the mall door when you go shopping. Go for a walk in the park or through a neighborhood you love and bring a dog or a friend along for company. Take dance or martial arts lessons.

Once you become more active in general, you’ll find it easier and more natural to move into regular exercise. This you’ll need to do eventually in order to get regular, noticeable health benefits. You need to raise your heart rate to a fat burning level and keep it there for at least 20 minutes, 3 times or more a week. However, if you don’t want to go to a gym, there are other options. Videos and DVDs are now available in all kinds of exercise types. That way you can change your routine whenever you want so that you don’t get bored with what you’re doing. Try a range of aerobics, kickboxing, yoga, or pretty much any activity you want right in the comfort of your own home.

If you have physical limitations that would keep you off from exercising, you can still find a way to increase your activity level. Water aerobics is a wonderful option for those who have joint problems or limited mobility because it relieves the pressure on your body that your weight provides. But you still get the resistance to challenge your muscles from the water. There are even classes and videos available that let you exercise in a seated position.

Whatever kind of exercise you choose, it’s important to stay motivated and keep it fun. Try gathering a group together to make it a social event. Or get a pedometer, a device that tracks how far you walk, and see how many miles you can walk a week. Make a competition amongst your friends or family members and treat the winner with something special (not food related!). Make the experience of exercising something that you look forward to, and it will soon become a regular part of your healthier lifestyle.