Chances are you know that regular physical exercise is good for you. You may even be able to name a handful of benefits, such as weight loss or maintenance, a healthier heart and lungs, stronger bones, increased energy or a more positive outlook. According to Lawrence Schlitt, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic in Del Mar, regular exercise also decreases your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
In order to reap the benefits of exercise, you have to do it.
“For many people, that’s the hard part,” says Dr. Schlitt. “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, once you get started, you may find it becomes something you look forward to doing. 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.
Tips for more consistent exercise
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.
1. Do what you like
“It sounds so simple, yet many people force themselves to do activities they hate because they think they think they should,” says Dr. Schlitt. “If you don’t enjoy working out on the treadmill or bike in the gym, try running or bike riding outdoors.”
If group exercise classes are not motivating, 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.
“Don’t completely write off activities you think you don’t enjoy” cautions Dr. Schlitt. “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.”
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Try a new activity
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.
6. 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.
7. 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,” says Dr. Schlitt.