by Mark Wolgin, Orthopedic Surgeon
If you’ve ever read a newspaper, watched television or caught a glimpse of the magazine covers in your grocery store checkout line, chances are you know that regular physical exercise is good for you.
You may even be able to name a handful of its benefits, such as weight loss or maintenance, a healthier heart and lungs, stronger bones, increased energy or a more positive outlook. Plus, regular exercise decreases your risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
In order to reap the benefits of exercise, though, you have to do it. For many people, that’s the hard part. It can be a challenge to find time to fit exercise into a busy schedule and, even if you do have time, you may be too tired at the end of a busy day to even think about working out.
Fortunately, the great thing about exercise is that once you get started, you may find it becomes something you look forward to. As workouts start to pay off in the form of better health, improved mood and an overall sense of well-being, you may even wonder how you lived without them.
Whether you’re starting an exercise program for the first time or trying to get back into a routine, these tips can help you make physical exercise a routine part of your day.
- Do what you like. It sounds so simple, yet many people force themselves to do activities they hate because they think they’re “supposed to.” If running on a treadmill makes you feel like a hamster, try an elliptical trainer or recumbent bike. Rediscover your love of swimming. Explore a new hiking trail.
When your workouts involve things you like to do, you’ll be more likely to stick with them. By the way, don’t completely write off activities you think you don’t enjoy. Some people who can run five miles on scenic trails can’t last five minutes on a treadmill. Similarly, swimmers who loathe laps in a chlorinated pool may love being in the water at La Jolla Cove.
- Put it on your calendar. Set aside time for workouts just as you would for a meeting or lunch date. Reserving an hour or so eliminates the “I don’t have time” excuse and makes it more difficult for other things to get in the way.
- Fit in mini-workouts. No way you can set aside an hour, or even a half-hour, for exercise? Try “chunking.” Breaking up your workout into several shorter sessions throughout the day can provide many of the same benefits as one longer one. And, at any rate, it’s better than no exercise at all.
- Mix it up. Like anything else, the same workout day after day can bore you to tears. Explore a new running or biking route. Walk on the beach instead of the sidewalk. If you belong to a gym, try an exercise class that you’ve never done before. Along with keeping boredom at bay, different types of exercise challenge muscles you don’t usually use and give a rest to the ones you do.
- Spread your wings. Combine exercise with the opportunity to learn an activity you’ve always wanted to try. Kayaking is an excellent upper-body strengthener, while soccer or inline skating will give your legs and lungs a workout. Combine fitness with vacation at a weekend surf school or tennis camp.
- Recruit a partner. Working out with a friend can make your sessions more enjoyable, and you’ll be less likely to skip your workout when you know someone else is waiting for you.
- Don’t overdo it. As “weekend warriors” know all too well, too much of a good thing can leave you exhausted, sore and perhaps even injured. How much is too much? That depends on the individual. Listen to your body — it will let you know when you need to slow down or take a day or two off.
Warning signs can include:
- Not performing at your usual level
- Feeling unusually sore or tired after exercise
- Strained muscles
- A higher-than-usual morning heart rate
- Frequent colds or the flu
If you experience signs of over-exercising, heed your body’s advice and take a break.
This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Mark Wolgin, M.D., orthopedic surgeon with Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.