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posted: 4/28/2014 5:30 AM

Getting fit for summer: Small steps for big results

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By Gabriella Boston
Special To The Washington Post

Beginner Eight-week goal: Lose 10 pounds, tone up

This is your program if you feel ready and excited to take on an eight-week challenge, and really just want quick results by starting a new workout and diet. You're starting at little to no physical activity throughout the week, and with little to no awareness of how your eating habits stack up.

Weeks 1-3 goals:

• Practice the plate method with lunch and dinner. Half of the plate should be vegetables, one-quarter lean protein, one-quarter starchy vegetables or whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat bread, etc.)

• Exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week. Try two cardio days at medium intensity (walk, walk/jog, spin, bike, hike, elliptical, etc.) and one "strength" day of free weights, group fitness class, Pilates, yoga or at-home exercises.

• Reduce added sugars by at least one serving per day. Think about where there are "extra" sugars in your day (both substitutes and the real stuff). Flavored yogurt? Soda? Sweetened coffee? Afternoon treats? Dessert after dinner? Alcohol? Eliminate at least one of these.

Weeks 4-7 goals:

• Eat at least five servings of fruits or vegetables each day. Continue the plate method and use this to help you keep your fruit and vegetable intake high.

• Increase exercise by one day per week. Add in a cardio-strength mixed workout -- this would be something like a group fitness class, Pilates or doing 15-20 minutes of cardio and then adding 10-15 minutes of strength exercises (about 30-45 minutes of total exercise). Be consistent.

• Increase water intake. Drink at least 10 cups of water each day, and substitute water for sweetened drinks, alcohol and/or coffee.

Week 8 goal:

Keep everything consistent! These new behaviors should feel more habitual by this point.

Moderate Eight-week goal: Lose five pounds, get a toned look

If you already exercise somewhat regularly (90-120 minutes per week) and have some awareness of healthful eating, this program is for you. You may feel your eating habits are "pretty healthy" but you have a few weaknesses (think: sweets, a glass of wine at night, etc.).

Weeks 1-3 goals:

• Reduce added sugars/alcohol by two servings per day. If your alcohol intake isn't regular, then aim for only two to three drinks per week total.

• Add in one extra day of physical activity per week to focus on strength training and toning muscles. Try a new group fitness class, an at-home video, the seven-minute workout, etc. If you're already working out five or six days per week, then add 10-15 minutes of strength training to your current routine at least once a week.

• Reduce carbohydrate intake at night; aim for high vegetable/protein meals at dinner. If there is a carb in the meal, aim for starchy vegetables rather than processed carbs such as bread or pasta.

Weeks 4-7 goals:

• Add in healthful fats to one meal/snack per day. Aim for unsaturated fats such as fish, oils, nuts, seeds or avocado. If you already eat these, try a different source, something new.

• Devote at least one day per week to high-intensity cardio exercise (Effort 8 on a scale of 10) for at least 25-30 minutes.

Week 8 goal:

Keep everything consistent! These new behaviors should feel more habitual by this point.

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