By KELLY LAWMAN, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

Eating a healthy diet and being active are essential elements of any weight loss or weight maintenance program. The science is pretty straightforward: when we burn more calories than we eat, we lose weight. It sounds easy enough, but before diving in, here are a few things to consider that might help ensure success.

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

Derek Walczak is an exercise physiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Tanger BeWell Center. When he meets with new clients, the first thing he tries to do is look at the barriers that have kept them from reaching their weight loss goals.

“It always comes down to time, motivation and interpreting the information that’s out there,” he says.

Walczak recommends starting with a good assessment that takes into account age, current activity level, what you do for work, your support system, and then, of course, your available time.

“It’s important to think about how your body works right now,” says Walczak. “So many of us have imbalances created from sitting down at the computer all day; tighter hips and shoulders, for example. Flexibility should be the foundation, so we want to start by loosening up the body to correct those imbalances.”

After that, it’s a good idea to start simple with the least complex exercise program — walking, a beginner yoga class, light strength training — that works for you and then slowly progress forward.

“If we start too far ahead, we risk injury or burn out,” says Walczak. “So it’s really identifying what can I do, what’s realistic for me, and working up from there.”

To help stay committed to a new exercise program, make sure it’s something you enjoy. Exercise doesn’t always have to be on the treadmill. Try a Zumba class or any kind of dancing, try the climbing wall, or vary it up with outdoor activities, like hiking. And mix it up with on demand or online classes, or DVDs of your favorite instructor that you can exercise along with at home.

Find a workout partner, use a wearable fitness tracker, download an app for your smart phone or join an exercise group to help you stay motivated.

“There are exercise groups out there for everyone. I even found a Star Wars boot camp where Star Wars fans that had never worked out got together,” Walczak says. “As funny as it sounds, it keeps people interested and gets results.”

Don’t forget to rest. One of the most overlooked aspects of training is recovery.
“When people go to the gym four or five days in a row after not going to the gym in a long time, they often feel sore and ready to quit, so pacing yourself and setting realistic goals and expectations is key,” says Walczak.

Walczak says putting exercise on your calendar can go a long way toward helping you make exercise a priority. “We always tell people, if you have a meeting in your calendar, you’re not going to miss it, so if you put in a 20-minute workout in your calendar, you’re more apt to do it.”

And incorporating movement into your workday can help you get to the recommended 30 to 45 minutes of activity each day.

Walczak suggests setting reminders on your computer to get up and move around.

“You may not be able to do jumping jacks and push ups at work, but you can take a five-minute stretch break or do a lap around the office,” he says. “Instead of sending an email, walk down the hall to ask your colleague a question, or find a stairway and count the stairs, trying to add more each week.”

Focusing on behavior changes, rather than the ultimate outcome, is a good way to avoid frustration.

“Just establishing different behaviors like replacing a food item with a healthier choice or getting a calendar and programming a whole month’s worth of workouts can help you be successful,” says Walczak. “Over time, I see people gain confidence and a feeling of accomplishment, being able to do things they never thought they could do. It’s very empowering.”

It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor about exercise, especially if you have any weight-related medical conditions. And, if you’ve had weight loss surgery, talk with your doctor to see when you can start exercising, then take it slow and if possible, work with a trainer who can help with a program geared toward your post-surgery body.

You may also want to read: Health and Fitness: There’s an App for That and How Many Calories Do I Burn in an Hour?

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted February 2015