For many of us, our parents and grandparents got much more physical activity than we get today. They shoveled snow, raked leaves, chopped wood, scrubbed floors, hand-washed garments, hand-mowed lawns, washed and waxed cars and walked miles per day. And for our earliest of ancestors, physical activity was a natural way of life. Roaming and working the land, gathering food and water, cutting firewood and securing shelter brought with it plenty of physical exertion. Our bodies are meant for movement.
Granted, it’s difficult to make physical activity a natural way of life today. Our jobs often require long car commutes and sitting at desks most of the day. But we can easily add more regular physical activity to our daily lives. And the good news is that our bodies are adaptive and even if we haven’t been exercising for quite some time, our body systems will get with the program quickly once we get moving. We don’t have to use high-tech equipment or join noisy crowded gyms. And exercising doesn’t need to be hard, difficult, super sweaty or challenging.
Sure, physical activity increases your metabolic rate and helps you burn more calories. But did you know that it also regulates your appetite and lowers hormone levels like insulin and excess estrogen? And the benefits of exercise extend far beyond weight management. Regular physical activity can increase your energy, regulate your mood, relieve stress, help reduce the risk for several health conditions and diseases and improve the overall quality of your life.
So how much exercise do you need to do? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults age 18-65 include four different types of activity in their exercise routine: cardio or aerobic activities, muscle strengthening activities, flexibility exercises (stretching) and neuromotor exercises (involving motor skills such as balance, agility, coordination and gait.)
For Cardio activities, you’ll need to do a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity like brisk walking at least five days of the week. Or, you could do a minimum of 20 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity like jogging, running or cycling, three days per week. And you don’t have to do it all at once! You can exercise two times per day for 15 minutes or three times per day for 10 minutes. Anyone can create this kind of time in their schedule. You can do this!
Two days per week, include strength training activities such as weight lifting in your routine. The goal would be to complete 6-8 strength building exercises with 8-12 repetitions per exercise. You can accomplish this at home with a small array of weights or exercise bands, a bench and/or an exercise ball. If you are just beginning this type of exercise, you will probably need to get some instruction. A series of private sessions with a personal trainer or an ongoing class with an instructor should give you the basics.
Don’t forget to include some stretching everyday you exercise if possible or at least every other day. Stretching increases flexibility of joints and muscles and helps prevent injuries. And taking three to five minutes at the beginning and end of any activity to properly warm up and cool down is essential.
Twenty to thirty minutes per day, two to three times a week, try to include neuromotor exercises such as yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonic, and balance ball work.
I know these guidelines may seem like a lot, but if you map out a schedule, you’ll find that it’s fairly easy to cover all the bases. Just take it slow and add more exercises as time permits. There is no rush.
If you’re just beginning an exercise program, check with your healthcare provider to make sure you are healthy enough to begin exercising.
Okay, so now you know what you should be doing in terms of exercise. So, what’s stopping you? As a Psychotherapist, Life Coach and Certified Personal Trainer with 25 years of experience designing exercise programs I’ve heard all the excuses, including:
“I’m too tired to exercise.” If you feel too tired to even start exercising, this may be a sign that your diet is not supporting you and/or your adrenals, thyroid or sex hormones are out of balance. Until these issues are addressed you can start increasing your activity a bit by:
- parking further away
- taking the stairs whenever possible
- increasing activities around the house and
- performing gentle stretching exercises.
“I don’t have the time to exercise.” If you’re convinced that you don’t have time to exercise, you’ll need to evaluate your priorities. Exercise is a way of taking care of yourself , no different than brushing and flossing. Don’t get stuck in the trap of thinking that it doesn’t’ count unless it’s a half-hour or more, sweaty and out-of-breath heart-pumping. Moderate intensity activity that raises your heart rate is enough. If your life is super busy with care-taking duties involving kids and parents, you’ll have to get creative. A twenty minute walk early morning and maybe one on your lunch break will do the trick. Pick up some hand weights and do some light strength-building exercises during the commercial breaks of your favorite television program. I do ab exercises and light stretching while watching the nightly news.
“I hate exercise–it’s uncomfortable and boring.” Focus on finding an activity you find enjoyable, like dancing or swimming. Try taking an exercise class, like Zumba dancing and see if you get motivated by the high energy of the class. You’ll also be working on building your tolerance level for discomfort. Try replacing negative thoughts about exercise with positive, energizing reframes like “I feel good when I take good care of myself,” or “I can do anything for just ten minutes.”
“It brings up terrible memories of physical education classes in grade school.” Perhaps you’re resisting exercise because it congers up old, unpleasant memories of being forced to run around the track or court and chase a tennis ball. And maybe you weren’t good at either. Make a list of all the reasons you don’t like to exercise and any negative associations from the past. Share these with a friend or therapist. Often, this is enough to get you started. And keep in mind, you’re doing it for you now, not the school’s curriculum, not to please your father–just for you. And you’re worth it.
When you’re ready to begin moving your body, make sure to set realistic goals. It’s better to do less to start and feel positive about your accomplishment. You can always add more next week. It may be motivating to keep a log of your daily activities and to write down one statement every day you exercise about the benefit you’re receiving. For example, you might write: Walked 30 minutes around the golf course at a brisk pace. “Exercise is helping me lower my blood pressure.”
Whether you need to lose weight or not, you were meant to move. All your body systems work best when your machine is operating optimally, and that means movement! So, what are you waiting for?
With the lighter, longer days ahead of us, now is the time to Spring into action.
Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and When Food Is Comfort. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.
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