Did you resolve to exercise more in 2013? If so, congratulations! Being physically active is one of the most positive things you can do to maintain or improve your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic (cardio) exercise each week, AND strength training exercise, which targets the major muscle groups, 2 or more times per week*. Moderate intensity means that you’re working hard enough to break a sweat and raise your heart rate (think brisk walking, water aerobics, biking, or Zumba). Daily activities like doing laundry, grocery shopping, or cleaning house unfortunately do not count as exercise because they don’t raise your heart rate enough.
The benefits of exercise are numerous. Aerobic exercise burns calories for weight loss, strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system, and helps insulin to work better. Strength training exercises build muscle, strengthen bones, and can reduce the signs and symptoms of conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, depression, diabetes, and obesity. Overall, people who meet or exceed the exercise recommendations tend to stay healthier longer and have a better quality of life.
So what can you do if the recommendations seem daunting, or you’re already losing steam on your resolution?
Keep it interesting and fun. Doing the same workout day after day not only gets boring, but also, once your body gets used to it, you won’t get as much benefit. So “cross train,” or vary your workouts by mixing up walking with short bursts of running, or swim for two weeks and bike the next two. Alternating gym time with playtime also makes exercise more fun. You can get the same benefit from walking on the treadmill (aka “the dreadmill”) for 45 minutes or playing 30 minutes of soccer with the kids – which would you rather do? Remember: as long as your heart rate is up and you break a sweat, it counts as exercise, so think outside the gym and dance, play a sport, or rake the leaves for a change.
Make it social. Schedule a regular date to work out with a friend, neighbor or partner. You’ll be less likely to skip your exercise if you know someone is counting on you, and the company will make the time pass more quickly. Chances are pretty good your housemate or the person in the office next door could use the exercise just as much as you, so why not tackle it together? If you need help finding an exercise buddy, try buddyup.com, a site that links people together based on where they live, the activity they do, skill level and availability.
Have a back up plan. Let’s face it, we live in New England, where sometimes it’s too cold to walk outside, or too snowy to drive to the gym, so it’s important to have an at-home workout plan to keep you on track. Keep a supply of workout DVDs or WiiFit video games you can use at home. College video is an excellent resource to watch video clips, read reviews, and purchase hundreds of different workout DVDs. Ace Fitness also has a complete on-line library of fitness workouts to use at home or at the gym.
Exercise for a cause. Joining a fundraising walk, run or biking event can be a fun way to get in shape, meet new friends, and raise money for a cause you care about. The Walking Site provides links to major charity walking events across the country. If you’re a fan of social media, Charity Miles is a great new exercise app to check out. The program logs the miles you walk, run, or bike, and makes a donation to the charities of your choice (there are 9 currently listed with hopes to expand the program) when you share your activity on Twitter or Facebook.
Just do it! The hardest part about exercise is taking the first step, so force yourself to put on your shoes and get out the door, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Set small goals for yourself, start slowly, and track your progress with a journal. You’ll be amazed at what you can do if you remember: a body in motion is always headed in the right direction!
* Always consult your primary care physician before beginning any exercise program.