Chances are you already know that regular exercise is good for you. You may even be able to name some of the benefits, such as weight loss, a healthier heart and lungs, stronger bones, increased energy or a more positive outlook.
And yet, statistics continue to show that Americans aren’t getting enough exercise. Currently, only 1 in 4 adults meet the federal standards for strength-building and aerobic activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Could it be we’re just too good at making excuses for not exercising more often? After all, how often do we hear ourselves or others say: “I’m too tired,” or “I don’t have time to exercise”?
“Overcoming the obstacles that keep you from exercising may be a workout on its own, but it is worth the effort,” says Richard Onishi, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “In order to reap the health benefits of exercising, you have to just do it. You must make it a priority. What could be more important than your health?”
Regular exercise decreases your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, according to the CDC.
Federal guidelines recommend adults 18 to 64 participate in muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week, and moderate aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes per week or 75 minutes per week if done vigorously.
Whether you’re starting an exercise program for the first time or trying to get back into a routine, these seven tips can help you make physical exercise a routine part of your day.
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,” Dr. Onishi says.
When your workouts involve things you like to do, you’ll be more likely to stick with them. 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.
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.
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.
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,” Dr. Onishi says. “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.”
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.
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.
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,” says Dr. Onishi.
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.
While it may truly be a challenge for some people to find time to fit exercise into a busy schedule, it is not impossible, and the health benefits are too hard to ignore. “Once you get started you may find it becomes something you look forward to,” says Dr. Onishi.
“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.”