Last year, I retooled my entire workout mentality and the results were amazing. You can too.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with fitness (and if you’re reading this, chances are that you can relate). I love how I feel after I exercise, but I hate getting sweaty and have always had trouble wanting to exercise in the first place. So despite all the advice out there about working out in the morning, that has never become my A.M. routine. I’d simply rather stay under the covers and wake up slowly, sipping my coffee while my brain turns on. At night, I can easily talk myself out of doing exercise, too, because I’m a) too tired or b) distracted by family obligations or c) the new episode of This is Us. Who’s with me?
That’s not to say that I don’t realize the many, very real benefits to regular exercise. Personally, I know it helps ease a few chronic health issues I have, which should (in theory) help motivate me to exercise. I also know that regular exercise helps me focus better during the work day, and allows me to be flexible and strong enough to deal with life’s challenges. So, because my brain knows it’s healthy, every year when January rolls around, I drag my body back to the gym—despite my own reluctance, and a long history of spurts of gym attendance, followed by months of laziness.
But this past year something changed in a big way. I retooled my entire workout mentality, and I was able to keep up an exercise routine for 12 consecutive months. Yes, all 2016 long! And now that 2017 has arrived, I don’t have to force myself into another maybe-I’ll-stick-with-it-this-time New Year’s health resolution … because I’m already doing it.
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So what changed? I think a big part of it was making fitness fun again. Because the root of my problem was always that physical exercise just didn’t appeal to me. And the other half was not trying to push myself too hard, or try to join the latest health fad. My moderate-intensity workouts get the job done without all the high-intensity fuss that usually makes me feel like a failure. And it turns out, science agrees with my lets-not-go-crazy philosophy.
For example, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that low-to-moderate intensity physical activity “substantially reduced the risk of early death.” That sounds like a pretty good reason to lace up some sneakers, doesn’t it? Especially because it doesn’t require you to be a gym rat or a rock climber. The study, published by the International Journal of Epidemiology, focused on sedentary folks who started a fitness routine and showed that “you don’t have to be an exercise freak to benefit from physical activity,” according to Science Daily. “Just achieving the recommended levels of physical activity (equivalent to 30 minutes daily of moderate activity on five days a week) reduces the risk of death by 19 percent, while seven hours per week of moderate activity … reduces the risk of death by 24 percent.”
The study’s lead researcher, James Woodcock, said, “This research confirms that it is not just exercising hard that is good for you but even moderate everyday activities, like walking and cycling, can have major health benefits. Just … walking the children to school can lengthen your life.” That’s music to my ears (and glutes): intimidating and extreme-style Spartan and Crossfit workouts seem to be all the rage. The athletes who participate achieve impressive results, to be sure. And I admire my friends and family members who never seem to take a day off and perform huge feats of strength and endurance in those type of programs. However, when I’ve attended strenuous boot camp classes, I inevitably end up sore and/or injured. And never returning.
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And that’s a pretty common problem, according to Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. She notes, “American College of Sports Medicine guidelines … state that vigorous-intensity exercise performed more than five days per week may increase the incidence of injury … generally this amount of physically is not recommended,” Super-intense workouts can lead to burnout, as well.
Even the Mayo Clinic agrees that you don’t need to push yourself very hard to start seeing the benefits of a moderate exercise routine: “What’s the key to looking and feeling better and enhancing your health? Exercise. Moderately strenuous exercise, about 30 minutes a day, can lead to enormous benefits in terms of your mood, health, weight and the ability to live an independent and fulfilling life. The exercise doesn’t need to be athletic or difficult. Studies have shown that simply walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes or more on most days can lead to significant health improvements. Add simple strengthening exercises … and the benefits are even greater.”
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So if you’re like me, and the very thought of huffing and puffing (especially in public) gives you hives, let my 2016 story of moderation encourage you to do something physical at least a few times a week. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to do your body good. And really focus on finding the exercise you enjoy. If you can’t stand the thought of dancing to hip-hop music, forget Zumba. If you don’t want to go, eventually you won’t go. It’s that simple!
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Lift small weights while you do other things, like watch television.
- Dance around the house to your favorite tunes.
- Go outside and jump on the trampoline—even without the kids!
- Take the stairs when you can, instead of the elevator or escalator.
- Keep a few hand weights in the car for when you get stuck at a train or need to wait on someone.
- Walk around the park while your kids practice soccer or baseball.
- Bookmark 20-minute workout videos online (you can also borrow DVDs from your local library) for bad weather days.
- Schedule a lunch hour workout with a friend. Instead of eating a meal together, talk while you walk.
- Make fitness a family affair. My husband and I sometimes walk in the mornings before he goes to work, or in the evenings after dinner. We get caught up with each other while we’re getting healthier.
- Have an exercise “date” with your mate. Carey and I have also taken ballroom and country dancing lessons as a couple, and we both really enjoyed it (though he took some convincing at first). We worked up quite a sweat, too.
Finally, don’t forget to reward yourself (in a healthy way) for following through on your fitness plans. Treat yourself to a new outfit, spa day, or some cute new workout duds. You earned it!
January is a perfect time to set some reasonable goals for physical health. And instead of making a super-unrealistic resolution which you’ll break—and then feel guilty about—try incorporating gentle and fun exercise into your days. With just a few adjustments to your mindset and schedule, you might just become an exercise convert, too.
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