As a physical therapist, I often get asked questions about exercise. How often? When? Where? How much? What type? How long? Where do I begin? Ugg…With so many variables, so many questions, so many exercise fads swirling around in today’s society, exercise may be mind boggling and too overwhelming for many. Unfortunately, many people often end up stopping before they have even started.
My advice I often give, when presented with these questions, boils down to five words and pays homage to Michael Pollan’s simplicity in navigating the food world. In regards to exercise…
Move. Move often. Enjoy yourself.
True, this advice is simple. Just five easy words. But if followed, you will be able to reap the benefits of an active lifestyle and likely sustain an active lifestyle for years to come.
Whether you are a great couch sitter or run miles each day, start where you are at and move forward. Resist comparing yourself to your yoga instructor neighbor who bikes to her studio each day or your office coworker who manages to attend a spin class, shower and make a Starbucks run all before starting work at 7 AM. Live your own life, wear your own shoes and take your own steps forward. For some, this may mean parking at the far end of the lot to increase your daily walking. For others, this may mean biking to work instead of using the car. As the amount of movement in your day increases, you will likely start to feel better, for the benefits of increased activity are endless. As Pavlov demonstrated, as you feel the benefits of increased activity, you will naturally add more movement to your day and thus remain motivated to continue to exercise your body. Eventually, you will likely experience a lifestyle shift. No longer will you sit on your glut muscle all day. Instead you will work your glut muscle. No longer will you sit on the couch after work and watch TV. Instead you will take a walk and view nature’s TV show. No longer will you ride the elevator. Instead you will walk the steps without hesitating. Your way of viewing your daily lifestyle and routine will shift for the better.
Human nature dictates that if we do not enjoy what we are doing, the chance of continuing is low. Have you ever signed up for a gym membership with great goals and hopes, only to see your money sucked down the drain due to not going? Figure out what sparks your interest and fills your spirit and then you can tailor your activity to what you enjoy. Do you enjoy the outdoors? Do you enjoy water? Do you enjoy socializing with others? Does volunteering spark your interest? There are so many ways to exercise while enjoying yourself. From kayaking to beach clean ups. From dance classes to walking dogs at the kennel. From roller skating to hiking. From a tai chi class at the community center to sweating to a zumba video in your living room. From walking around the block after dinner to picking berries. The possibilities for more movement are endless.
Variety is truly the spice of life. Vary your activities. Add intervals. Change locations. The more you enjoy your exercise, the more likely it will be that you are going to move and the more you move, the more often you will continue to move. And move. And move. It is a beautiful circle. It truly starts with putting one foot in front of the other. That’s all. Simple.