By Tafi Mhaka

I am in shape. I am in good shape. And I might look 27, 31, 34, or 37 years old, depending on the time of day. I tend to look worse for the wear after a day of hard work. But I am neither a 37 nor 27 year-old-man. But I am very lean and strong.

So I joined the local gym the next day. Boy, I could not believe how much fun exercising was then. It was tough working out after so long, but I found it so exhilarating and liberating. I began to feel alive and I immediately regretted the years I had spent shunning exercise.

I started out doing cardio. Then I moved on to lifting weights. But let us talk about cardio for a minute. Here is the trick to doing good cardio: keep it short. Just fifteen to twenty minutes of intensive cardio, three times a week, especially if you like to go running outside, is more than plenty. Challenge yourself and enjoy it.

I have found that most people tend to run for too long. Rather go for quick bursts of exercise, like sprints, preferably over short distances, as they will work wonders for your health. They are great for your metabolism and fairly easy to recover from. And they will keep you looking and feeling young. This is what the experts call Interval Training.

It is the kind of training athletes like Usain Bolt do. So whatever you do, keep it doable. You might want to start out with a steady ten-minute cardio workout for a week or two, then work it up to fifteen minutes and finally twenty minutes. Remember to keep your cardio workouts short and entertaining and intense.

I use music to fuel my workouts. I change the playlist every week. Importantly, I play songs that inspire me. They may be songs that make me happy. The latest songs or old school songs. Songs that remind of the good old days, as they say. They may be songs that make me sad and happy at the same time. Songs that remind me of family and friends I have lost along the way. These are songs that literally give me life. The feeling I get from them helps me to push long and hard all the time. They act as a timely reminder: I must enjoy myself; I am alive and this is as good as life gets.

Four weeks after I joined the gym I began to lift weights and do circuit training. By that time, I had lost around 12 kilograms, and I could not fit most of my clothes. I was absolutely thrilled. I could see and feel the change I had undergone and welcomed back a long-lost youthful zest for life. If you find it hard to make the time to exercise or cannot seem to get a weight lifting routine you can stick to, please read on. All it takes to lift weights progressively is three 45 minute workouts a week. That is all.

If you want a routine you can stick to for life, here it is: do a full body workout every time you go the gym. That is one exercise each for the chest, back, legs, shoulder, triceps and biceps. Do 2 or 3 sets of 8 reps for each exercise. Rest for 2 minutes between sets and you are sorted.

Remember to increase the weights you lift every week. That is what will make you stronger and leaner. Keep the increments small but raise the weights you lift consistently. You can add one or two kilograms every other week as well depending on your strength. Learn to lift the weights correctly. There are plenty of resources available online, if you need help. Or book one or two sessions with a fitness trainer, so you can learn how to do most exercises properly and safely.

Keep a written record of your workouts and record your times and reps. Doing so, will not make you a fitness freak; it just makes good sense, since it will help you to track your efforts. When you hit a plateau and can no longer increase the weights, change your routine. You can make your breaks shorter. Instead of taking 2-minute breaks, cut your resting time in between sets to 90 seconds for four weeks. Then cut it down to 60 seconds for the next four weeks. Then go down all the way to 45 second breaks for the next four weeks. Then go back to taking two minute breaks again.

Or alter your routine by changing exercises. That is all it takes. Do not spend time making conversation in the gym if you do not have to. Have fun, but get your workout done in 45 minutes; then leave, quickly, and do other important things in life. Be consistent: find the time to work out before bed, before work, at lunch, before supper or whenever, but get it done, and work out well and hard for 45 minutes. Honestly give it your all. That time in the gym is your time to make great things happen to your body.

Do a combination of cardio and weights if you can. It does not matter if you are a woman or man. Let us all do cardio and weights as well. Women should lift weights they find moderately challenging, there is no need to go all gung-ho about it. But whatever you do, keep it intense and exciting. Weightlifting, together with cardio, is the real key to looking tight and lean ladies. So two weightlifting sessions and two cardio sessions a week would be awesome for you.

You do not have to join a gym – or do cardio or weightlifting to get fit. You can play squash, tennis, netball or football for example. But you have to find an activity you find physically challenging and do it three times a week at least. You will find it difficult to get decent results if you do not work out consistently and it will not be long before you give up on exercising.

Let us talk about water and food. You want to stay hydrated all day long, not just when you work out. Drink water whenever you feel thirsty, as it will work best at quenching your thirst. I have found energy drinks to be counterproductive for people trying to lose weight. I have found energy drinks to be counterproductive for anything for that matter.

Eat good food in moderation and you will be just fine. Eat good food in moderation when you are hungry and you will be more than fine. By good food I mean potatoes, rice, chicken, maize meal, sorghum meal, oats and lean cuts of beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit (this is great if you love sugary foods, sweets and chocolate).

I often have fruit instead of bread or rice. So sometimes I have bananas and eggs for breakfast, oranges and eggs, or apples and roasted chicken for lunch. Often I have 500ml of milk and two tablespoons of peanut butter for lunch. It tastes great and it is energising and healthy. I also eat lots of yoghurt. This does not affect my weight at all. But that works for me. You should find out what works out best for you. The lesson here being: eat good food in moderation. As long as you consume a healthy and balanced diet in moderation, you should be fine.

I have a problem with processed foods. If you find it hard to lose weight or maintain a certain weight try a few things for a change. For starters, drop the processed foods and see how that move affects your appetite, mood and weight.

You can choose to have three square meals a day or have four, five or six smaller meals spread out through the day, it is really up to you, but you must meet the nutritional demands of your body. Anything less, or more, has the potential to affect your weight and the way you look and feel.

I take caffeine before I go to the gym. It is good for fat loss and helps me to concentrate. I stay super focused on the task at hand during every workout and enjoy listening to great music at the same time. I must admit that I do have a good pair of headphones that block the world out when I am in the gym. This keeps me in the zone. I urge you to find your fitness zone and stay in it when you exercise. All the best.

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