Someone said to me in passing, you know exercise helps everything, with maybe the exception of tooth decay. This statement is particularly true of lifestyle diseases: diabetes, asthma, heart disease, osteoporosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, metabolic syndrome, stroke, depression and obesity. Even if these issues are not yours, exercise is a great stress reliever. I am not writing anything controversial here. Most of you are nodding your head and saying “Yeah, I guess I should exercise more.”
I say it too. The other day, my daughter woke me at 6:15 saying “Come on Dad, let’s go for a run.” Now, I really wanted to roll over and catch another 45 minutes of sleep, but what parent can really say no to that request. Afterward she said to me “Isn’t it funny how when you start to run, you don’t really want to and its cold outside. Once you get going though you are really glad you did it.” Out of the mouths of babes.
We all know this. Yet I can safely bet that a large percentage of you are not involved in any regular exercise program. I believe what stops most people is their perfectionism. If you are going to work out it is a project. You have to research a gym. You have to find a trainer. You have to find the perfect bike. What you really need is to get up stop reading my blog and take a walk.
Successful exercise programs have some of the following characteristics.
First, they start small and build over time. Start by assessing where you are now and build from there. What can you do reasonably and safely? Develop a habit of fitness and allow yourself to build your routine from there. I often recommended walking or running to start because it is something that everyone can do without any special preparation beyond a good pair of supportive shoes. Start there, do it regularly for a month and then add from there.
Second, successful programs are easy to incorporate into your daily routine. If you work out at a gym is it close to your home or work? That fancy gym across town is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but if you have to drive 20 minutes each way to get there it is safe to say you won’t use your membership on a regular basis. My gym is right across the way, I am there in two minutes and work out on my lunch hour. Find a place to work out and do it regularly.
Another characteristic of good exercise programs involve something you enjoy. I love to run and it has always been at the core of my exercise program. My mother is a walker and has always tried to maintain a long walk as part of her daily routine. She walks with a neighbor and they encourage each other on the days you don’t feel like leaving the house. A routine you enjoy will be self reinforcing.
Finally good exercise programs often have a goal in mind. Personally, I like to know I have a race coming up. It helps keep me going on the days I might otherwise decide to “skip”. If you have never run a race, start with a local neighborhood race, a 5K. Many allow participants to walk. Many 5Ks are for charity. Pick one related to a charity that you support. If walking or running are not motivating to you, choose another goal. Being able to swim a certain distance, the feeling of well-being or increased self-esteem after a workout are worthy goals. My wife began exercising seriously for the first time after the birth of our third child. It was the only thing she could think of to do to give herself more energy, since more sleep wasn’t an option.
Notice, when discussing goals I did not mention the W word. Weight loss is usually not a good motivator for a regular exercise program. If you don’t lose weight fast enough, you may use that as an excuse to quit. Exercise should not be about losing weight as much as it should be about fitness and health. If you need some concrete evidence about what your exercise program is doing for you start by taking some baseline measurements, your BMI, your heart rate, body measurements all can be an objective way of seeing how your exercise program is affecting/benefiting your health. You may want to consider also your general feeling of health. I always notice an increase in my energy levels on the days when I work out. As an added bonus, I find I often eat better after exercising. That junk food doesn’t look so appealing after a run.
Exercise requires a simple commitment that you will get up and move every day. Make a promise to yourself to be an active participant in your own health and improve the quality of your life. The choice is yours, but it is an easy one to make.