Is that big wedding or reunion just a month away? Four weeks is a crunch, but with the right workout plan you can drop a few pounds and gain some feminine muscle tone. But remember -- an exercise routine is not a temporary plan but rather part of a healthy lifestyle. To maintain weight and fend off chronic illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio every week along with at least two days of muscle-building activity.
Rather than rushing into an intensive cardio routine, start the first week with 45 minutes of aerobic activity a day, five days a week. Week two, bump it up to 50 minutes a day. Week three move up to 55 minutes a day, and in the fourth week go for a full hour. The most important factor in picking an activity? Enjoyment. Whether it's walking, jogging or tackling the stair-stepper, you are far more likely to stick to a routine that you find fun. However, the exercise should be difficult enough that you cannot sing a song during your workout.
While cardio helps blast fat, strength training builds lean muscle tissue for toning. And don't worry about growing manly biceps -- women don't bulk up the same way as men. Perform muscle-building exercises three days a week, choosing weight machines at the gym or body-weight exercise at home. These include squats, situps, stair-stepping, pushups, yoga poses and leg lifts. Week one, perform one set of eight reps for each exercise. Week two, go for 10 reps. Week three, kick it up to 12 reps and in week four perform two sets of eight reps each.
Not all exercise pumps your muscles. Activities such as yoga stretches and breathing exercises may not burn many calories, but they do relieve stress. The lower your stress level, the less likely you are to pig out on junk food out of anxiety. As you relax, your body will also pump out less of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol contributes to visceral fat -- the kind that pads your inner organs, enlarging your waistline and contributing to diabetes, high cholesterol and a host of other maladies. Perform stress-reducing exercises three times a week, every week.
Play it safe by consulting a doctor if you are an exercise newbie or have a medical condition. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workouts to stay properly hydrated. To avoid overusing muscles, vary your activities. Wear nonrestrictive clothing when you work out, and stop if you begin to feel faint.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.