`I will get fit and lose weight this year'

Don't despair. New exercise routines make achieving that resolution possible, writes Mark Rowe
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The Independent Online
By the time you read this, it will be too late. The unrelenting tide of mince pies, turkey and New Year bingeing has left each of us, on average, 5lbs (2.25kg) heavier than we were a week ago according to the British Nutrition Foundation.

The good news is that never has there been such a wide range of fat-busting activities available to ease your conscience. From aerobic skiing or synchronised weightlifting to the traditional country walk or visit to the gym, there is little excuse for holding on to the extra pounds.

But first, digest these figures: an average Christmas meal of turkey, roast potatoes and brandy butter weighs in at 2,300 calories. The required daily intake for a woman is just 2,000 calories and while men need an average of 2,500 calories a day, a glass of wine (130 calories), two rashers of bacon (150 calories) or a sausage (130 calories) on Christmas morning will soon push one over the limit.

When you consider that you have to eat an extra 3,500 extra calories a day to gain just 1lb (0.45kg) in weight, that adds up to a hamper-sized diet for most of us during the festive season.

But sports experts are warning against "conscience exercise" where someone unused to physical exercise plays a game of squash or turns to the gym.

"That's a good way to ensure a visit to the doctor's surgery," says Andrew Shields, sports fitness editor of Time Out magazine. "Too many people see post-Christmas exercise as a penance. The key has to be enjoyment. If you're not happy in a swimming pool don't bother."

Exercise can start at home: taking down decorations without using a ladder is good for stretching calf muscles which have spent the past few days inert in front of the television. Using your hands to squeeze lemons instead of a juicer will help prod your dormant blood circulation into action.

For those planning to venture further afield than the kitchen, there are a variety of modern-day options which were unavailable or marginalised just a few years ago. For the more energetically inclined, 1998's "in" sport is set to be the bodypump, a form of powercise involving synchronised weightlifting, following a similar form to dance aerobics.

"It involves lifting three weights in time to music," says Mr Shields. "But these are seriously heavy weights. They develop strength and power rather than the dumbbells which help to tone muscles."

A good way to work out but avoid the muscleman image is to attend pilates classes, popular with dancers, sports stars and celebrities - including Madonna, Greta Scacchi, Patrick Swayze, and Pat Cash.

Pilates is a kind of specialised weight lifting. Most of the workout is done on a mat or on specialist machines, and includes working with wrist and ankle weights. Top ballet dancers use it to complement their classical training and its general appeal is that its builds strength and energy without adding bulk.

Skiing aerobics has become increasingly popular in recent years. The classes are aimed at those planning to go skiing and develops the muscles used when skiing. The cardio- vascular activity it involves would benefit any moderately fit individual.

The best sport of all for burning off calories is rarely seen in the UK. "Cross-country skiing is top of the league when it comes to fat burning," says Mr Shields. Anyone with a spare pair of cross-country skis in the attic and a snowy weather forecast take note.

Tai Chi and yoga classes are growing in popularity, regularly practised by 250,000 people in the UK with numbers expected to grow by 20 per cent in the next year. "They may not rate as high on the calorie burning level but they stretch you physically and mentally. Relaxation is important when it comes to exercise," says Mr Shields.

Despite the plethora of modern-day exercise options, the most readily available option is all around us.

Ramblers' Association spokesman Carl Smith says: "There is no better way of recovering after stuffing your face than walking. It's great fun at this time of year and getting some cold winter air in your lungs will do you a lot of good."