If you are already exercising regularly, here are some suggestions to help you get the most from your effort, and develop some enduring, beneficial habits. Allow Spring's arrival to be a helpful nudge.
If you are like many of us and feeling like you need to increase your activity but cannot quite get motivated or find the time in your busy schedule, here are some tips that may help you make exercise more enjoyable and effective.
When you read about exercise today what you commonly see are standard recommendations for types of exercise and how long you should exercise based on averages from studies in groups of people. While this information is valuable it's unlikely that you are that 'average' individual. Each one of us is in our unique place and have things we like to do, resources at our disposal, and more. It's important to note that 'more and harder' are not always better. We are best served by adapting these global standards to real life. Our life.
The following recommendations are based on proven methods, as well as the latest research and observations that to be healthy, fit and sustain activity over time, it is not only which exercise we do that matters but how to develop activity habits that fit into our individual lives.
1) Go for Variety. The body gets accustomed to the same thing every day and over time stops responding in the same manner. Ever reach a plateau?
2) Confuse the Body by alternating the speed or intensity or frequency of what you do if even by small amounts and with moderate intensity. This is why interval training is better than maintaining a steady pace at anything you do. Walk faster and slower. Take a few steps backwards every so often.
3) Change Posture. Stand up as often as you can throughout the day. Believe it or not, as well as improving balance and functional strength, this stimulates an enzyme that targets abdominal fat and has more physiological benefit than taking slow walks.
4) Take a Class. Classes provide structure, accountability and also variety since no two classes are alike, and you will do things that you otherwise wouldn't. There are lots of classes out there at health clubs or public recreation programs. My favorite is Yoga, where you learn to use breathing to energize or calm yourself, while increasing flexibility and balance.
5) Try Pilates. Pilates is amazing at strengthening your body's core muscles that support your back. It reminds me to suck my stomach in when I sit at my computer or driving. Start with an introductory class if you have never done it.
6) Make it Social. Grab a friend or group and play tennis, golf or take a long walk once a week.
7) Swim. Outdoors if you can, but anywhere is good. Swimming is a wonderful, low-impact activity and just plain feels good.
8) Get Dirty, Have Fun: Gardening is not usually thought of as exercise but the next day your pleasantly aching muscles may tell you otherwise. Stretch before and after and don't try to do your spring clean-up and planting all at once. And the next time you walk by the playground, swing on that swing, even slowly. You may even make a new, younger friend or two.
9) Relax. And I'm not talking about watching TV. Most of us think we know how to relax but really aren't accomplishing it. I'm talking about an activity that releases your tension and brings you back to a state of equilibrium. Relaxation is just as important to our muscles and joints as contracting them. Not sure how to do it? Take a restorative or Yin yoga class and learn that feeling.
10) Do it now, then do it later. Do you fail to start exercising due to not having enough time? Instead, do 3 or 4 minutes here and 3 or 4 minutes there. Which do you think will have results - lamenting your busyness and not doing anything, or doing a little bit at different times during the day?
I consider myself a fairly active person but if you are like me, you may spend a little too much time sitting in front of a computer or a TV, especially during the colder months. It's also easy to go with what's comfortable and not test our bodies in smart and reasonable ways. I hope that with Spring's arrival, you will allow some of these suggestions to spark a renewed enthusiasm about your exercise program.