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Everything you ever wanted to know about exercise

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Your physical fitness

We asked exercise physiologist Will Drexler to tackle your most common questions about fitness.

Your physical fitnessQ: How accurate are the calorie-burning counters on cardio machines?
A: Not very. They tend to over-estimate calorie burn by a fair amount — up to 30 percent, depending on the machine. Stationary bikes, treadmills, and machines that allow you to enter your weight tend to be more accurate; ellipticals generally exaggerate results. To determine how many calories you can burn based on your weight for more than 220 physical activities, go to

Q: Should I eat before or after a workout?
A: After. You want to replace the carbohydrates and glycogen (stored glucose that's used for energy) that were depleted or you'll be more susceptible to injury and burnout. And the sooner you eat, the more likely those nutrients will go to the place where they were expended and are needed most. Research suggests that a snack with a carb-to-protein ratio of four to one is the most beneficial.

Q: Why do I feel sore two days after going to the gym?
A: This is called "delayed-onset muscle soreness." Muscle structure is broken down a little during strength-training, and soreness is a sign that your body is rebuilding. As much as you may want to just sit on the couch, it helps to move: Activity increases blood flow to the area, delivering nutrients that help repair muscle.

Q: Can I tone muscle without lifting weights?
A: Any exercise that involves pushing or pulling against a resistance — such as yoga, Pilates, push-ups, planks, and using resistance bands — is good for muscle toning and endurance.

Q: If I want to lose weight and tone up, should I lose a few pounds first before I start strength-training?
A: You don't have to, but many people want to see results on the scale right away — it keeps them motivated. If that's you, start with aerobic activity to drop pounds faster, then as you get closer to your goal body weight, focus more on strength-training. At this point you won't see as much change on the scale because you'll be building muscle—and muscle weighs more than fat—but you will be improving your fitness level.

Q: Why do men lose weight faster than women?
A: Men naturally have a higher "VO2 max," which is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during exercise. And the more oxygen you use, the more calories you burn. Also, pound for pound, men have more lean muscle mass, which burns more calories at rest than fat tissue does.

Q: Should I work out every day?
A: It's okay to do cardiovascular exercise daily, but you shouldn't strength-train every day — your muscles need time to recover. In general, it's good to take one day off entirely each week: Remember, exercise is stressful on the body, plus you don't want to burn out mentally.

Q: How often do I need to buy new workout shoes?
A: The general rule is every 500 miles, but sneakers tend to last longer if you're using them on cardio and weight machines versus pounding the pavement with regular outdoor runs.

Q: How many calories should I expend each day to lose weight?
A: To lose 1 pound a week you need to expend an additional 500 calories a day, either through exercise or cutting calories from your diet. Don't try to lose more than 2 pounds a week — people who lose weight quickly tend to regain it quickly.

Q: If I have only 30 minutes, what's the best way to utilize that time to burn the most calories and fat?
A: Work out at the high end of your target heart rate zone doing anything that gets you up to that level, whether it's doing one cardiovascular activity or a combination of activities.

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Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc. Originally Published: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Exercise

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