For lots of us, exercise is the final frontier in shifting to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. You might be great about keeping healthy snack foods at home or know the latest about gluten-free foods. You might even squeeze in a few daily moments for reflection or meditation. But for some reason, getting to the gym regularly or taking that run every other day just doesn’t make the cut with that long to-do list of family needs, work commitments, and important life events. Fess up! You know it's true!
We’ve all been there. And we’re not here to give you guilt! Life is busy, we get it. Still some of us have elevated our skills as exercise procrastinators and excuse makers to an art form (I’ll start next week … I have to clean my closet…the dog needs a bath!)
But listen up, the evidence is mounting that the benefits of exercise goes well beyond looking good in a swimsuit or skinny jeans. Getting enough exercise is about overall health—beyond the link to prevention of disease (always a good thing), exercise helps with depression, anxiety, confidence (yes, we all want that) and weight management. People who exercise regularly tend to perform better in all aspects of their lives. (You know what they say, you’ve got to burn it to earn it!)
But if we all know that exercise is important to balance and health— why do we put it off? One theory is that most people, consciously or not, put their immediate experience ahead of future rewards. And, let’s face it-- exercise is something many of us view as distinctly uncomfortable. We’re talking about feeling sweaty, sticky, sore, too hot, too cold—you name it (or all of the above). And that doesn’t even include the psychological stuff--you don’t look good enough in your Lulus or you can’t keep up with others in the spin class (stop that right now, we love you in your Lulus).
The circle of health
So how do you get past all the junk and make exercise the important priority it should be? The key is to begin thinking about health, life balance (and don’t forget mindfulness), and exercise as a continual process, not a goal you reach (I’m healthy so now I can stop—no such luck!). It is also something you can’t wait to do until everything else is in order—admit it, whether you exercise or not, your closet will never be perfectly organized and who really cares, anyway?
Once you get past that, all you have to do is just start. You don’t have to become an Olympic superstar. Fundamentally, our bodies were designed to move and to sweat every single day. So once you get over the idea that it won’t be fun, guess what? It will be fun. The endorphins will set you free!
Just make up your mind that this is something that is a part of your healthy lifestyle. And remember it doesn’t take as much time as you think. While the experts are somewhat divided about how much exercise is enough, the prevailing wisdom is that the major benefits for exercise start to appear at about 150 minutes a week, and can be as low as 75 minutes if you stick to high intensity exercise. But one size doesn’t necessarily fit all, so listen to your body on this one.
If all this resonates with you read on. Here are some real world tips to help you shift from that yo-yo pattern of on again off again exercise to a truly healthy and active life:
Set reasonable goals: Don’t overwhelm yourself. Going from zero to hero in seven days could send you right back to professional procrastination. So set goals you know you can keep. And keep in mind, you can’t measure your health by the number of inches or pounds lost, so don’t think about it that way. Measure it by how you feel. And remember, movement is what you were meant to do and work up to where you want to be.
Get enough snooze time: No, we’re not trying to confuse you. It’s all about balance, so if you aren’t getting enough rest, it will be tough to have the energy to stick with your exercise regimen. This is especially important if you’re balancing a lot in your life (and who isn’t?). If you need to get up early to make time for your workout, you also have to get to bed on time. It’s a simple as that. Develop a routine to help wind down at night and hit the sack at about the same time.
You do have time: Whether you want to admit it or not, you have time in your day to get moving. If an all-out trip to the gym isn’t in the cards, sneak in a workout in the course of your regular activities. Walk or bike to the office, squeeze in some weight training between meetings (really, who wouldn’t rather spend 15 minutes lifting weights than answering emails?—ok, don’t answer that), take the stairs—two at a time if you can, sit on a stability ball at the office, and do pushups and squats while you binge watch The Office.
Maximize your workouts: When you do workout, make it count. Take a walk or do the treadmill with weights—you’ll be surprised at how much progress you can make. Carrying three-to five-pound weights can help tone your shoulders, biceps and triceps and really get your heart pumping. At the same time, watch your calorie intake, especially if you want to trim down. No point in undoing the good with empty calories. Good food in fuels high energy out—a good choice is healthy protein snacks and low glycemic index foods.
Have fun: If you are still struggling to fit in those workouts, make it fun and social. Take a dance class (Cha Cha anyone?), join a hiking club or play tennis. Do something you enjoy, and, even better, do it with a friend. Having an exercise buddy not only makes it more fun, it will also keep you accountable (it’s a lot harder to cancel that scheduled workout if someone is expecting you).
So remember, just start. Even a little bit of exercise is better than nothing. And the more you rack up activity time, the more you will feel and sleep better and the more accomplished and confident you’ll be. And there is nothing uncomfortable about that.
How much exercise do I really need? By Dr. Jordan Metzyl, sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/29/health/how-much-exercise-metzl/index.html
The Real reason we don’t exercise… and why you should get your body out of it comfort zone. Psychology Today. Nov. 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shrink/201411/the-real-reason-we-dont-exercise