So here we are entering into a new year. Typically the gyms experience a wave of increased activity only to see it flatten out after a few weeks. Myriads of well-intentioned folks join up to make this the year that they get in shape, only to fall off the exercise wagon a short time later. But here’s the thing: I also talk to and see a good number of patients who really do get something consistent going and keep reaping the benefits as they press on. So how can you be one of those who press on and enjoy it this year?
Let’s take a moment to refresh our mind on the benefits of exercise; here are just a few: Improves your mood. In studies, regular aerobic exercise has stacked up as well as taking an anti-depressant in treating depression.
- Helps prevent diabetes. Multiple studies show that both pre-diabetes and diabetes are prevented, delayed or improved substantially by regular exercise.
- Helps delay or reduce the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Anything that can do this is worth the effort.
- Promotes weight management and improves lean body mass.
- Improves energy.
- Enhances sleep.
- Helps maintain joint health and mobility.
The bottom line is that the vast majority of us just feel and do a whole lot better for the long haul when exercise is happening in our life.
So what are some reasonable goals? Something as simple (at least in concept) as a 30 minute brisk walk (3-4 miles per hour for most folks) is a good place to start. Any substitute such as elliptical, biking, stationary bike, swimming, running, etc. is fine. If some weights/resistance work can be added for 20 minutes twice a week, that’s helpful. Others go beyond with longer exercise sessions, interval training, classes and a great variety of gym work-outs.
Now here’s the biggest question: How do I actually start doing something like this and stay with it? Here are a few keys:
- Start slow (but start). If the last time you exercised you were running but that was 25 pounds and 5 or 10 years ago, don’t go out and try a multi-mile run. The last thing you want is an injury or discouragement right at the start. I’ve had some patients where it had been so long since they exercised that I had them start with a 5 minute walk 5 days a week and add a minute a week until they got up to a 30 minute brisk walk a half year later. Better to do that and avoid injury than to knock yourself out of the game early on.
- Figure out a way to actually make it enjoyable. I do a mix of biking, running, racquetball and swimming. The variety keeps it fun. And back when I was trying to make it all more regular, I discovered that having a downloaded book, music or podcast helped turn a somewhat dull run into a more interesting outing. That translated into my actively working to wedge it into my day instead of concluding that I was too tired or busy.
- Be a can-do person. In the midst of a list of many things you perhaps can’t do, figure out what you can do. If due to injury or excess weight you really shouldn’t be running, or can’t bike and don’t have access to swimming, maybe you can still walk. Or if not, get an inexpensive recumbent or other stationery bike on Craig’s list, get in front of something worthwhile and interesting to watch and go to it.
- Make a weather-proof plan. If you’re going to do outdoor exercise, be tough and don’t let a little rain or less than perfect temperature stop you. But when necessary, have a ready indoor alternative.
- If at all possible, find one or more encouragers. Few of us do well as Lone Rangers for the long haul. A friend, spouse, or trainer can help keep us on track when we just aren’t feeling it for exercise.
- Have some guidelines and goals for yourself such as not letting yourself go two days in a row without exercise.
Much more could be said, but bottom line, go for it! And when you mess up or slack off, pick yourself up and keep pressing on. You’ll feel better, be on less meds, and help prevent a whole lot of illness and disability as you do. Happy 2015!