And don’t forget about the mental benefits of exercise. Ever hear of the runner’s high? That’s thanks to endorphins, hormones that are released by the body during exercise that make you feel good. Add to that, exercise brings oxygen-rich blood to your brain, giving you more energy. And exercise promotes better sleep patterns.
To improve your health, aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderately intense aerobic activity. That’s 30 minutes a day on five days of the week. This type of aerobic activity, like brisk walking or dancing, works out your heart. To lose weight and keep it off, you may need more: Aim for 300 minutes per week (an hour a day for five days).
On at least two days per week, also try activities that strengthen your muscles. Examples include lifting weights, doing pushups, or even raking leaves or digging in the garden.
Path to improved health
The best way to work exercise into your life is to make it a habit. If you’re not exercising regularly now, you’ll want to get into the routine of doing it.
Yes, changing behavior can be difficult. But it’s far from impossible. It’s a process that involves several stages:
Stage 1: Contemplation. This is the I’m thinking about it stage. Ask yourself about the pros and cons of getting into the fitness habit. Write them down on a piece of paper.
- Pros: How would life be better if you exercised more? Would it help improve your self-esteem? Could you have some fun doing it? Would it help you make some new friends? Help you maintain your weight?
- Cons: Might it be expensive? Time consuming? Tiring?
Stage 2: Preparation. In this stage you’re about to take action. Look at your pros and cons list. Ask yourself how you can turn a plan into action. For example, let’s say the con is: It’s too time consuming. What can you do to change that? Can you sneak activity in during the day? Take the stairs instead of the escalator at the mall? Park further away at the grocery store? If you think exercise is too expensive, can you start a walking group? If you think exercise is boring can you come up with some way to make it interesting?
Stage 3: Action. Now you’re putting that plan into action and making real changes. To help you stick with your new plan, look at how you’ve overcome setbacks. Reward yourself with a day at the spa, or a night at the movies with a friend. Track your progress with an activity log. Hang it up in your kitchen so you can pat yourself on the back every day. Counter negative thoughts by reminding yourself how good you feel now that you’re moving more.
Stage 4: Maintenance. By this step, exercise has become a part of your life. Remember that this is a life-long plan. Find ways to keep things interesting. If you slip up and skip the gym for a week, don’t beat yourself up. Keep challenging yourself to make things fun and exciting.
Exercise habits to make
Now that you know how to make moving more a habit, what specific habits should you add into your daily routine?
Warm up and cool down. These might feel like a waste of time but easing into your workout beforehand and cooling down afterwards are crucial. Slowly raising your core temperature and getting extra blood and oxygen to the heart and muscles give your body a chance to adjust and help reduce the risk of injury. Cooling down afterwards helps to gradually reduce the temperature of all your muscles, reducing stiffness and soreness. Three to five minutes on the front end and the back end is good.
Sneak exercise in everywhere you can. Some ideas include:
- While watching TV, do jumping jacks at every commercial break.
- Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.
- Get up to talk to a co-worker instead of emailing.
- Pace when you’re on the phone.
- Turn on music when making the beds or vacuuming, and exaggerate all your movements.
- Use the printer that’s farthest away from your desk.
- Replace your office chair with a stability ball.
- Ditch the remote and get up every time you want to change the channel.
- Do calf raises when waiting in line at the grocery store. Use your cart for balance if necessary.
- Stand whenever you can instead of sitting.
Choose active things to do with your kids. Go for a hike. Play jump rope, go to the park and swing on the swings, or climb the jungle gym. Go for a bike ride, kayak on a local lake, or visit the zoo.
Shake things up. Doing the same thing day after day gets boring. Switching around your routine can make things interesting for both your mind and your muscles.
Hydrate. Your body needs water to regulate temperature, transport nutrients throughout the body, and lubricate joints. If you don’t drink enough, you may experience fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, or more serious symptoms. Drink water are least 20 to 30 minutes before, every 10 to 20 minutes during, and no more than 30 minutes after you exercise.
When to see a doctor
Almost anyone can do some type of physical activity. If you’ve never exercised before or have any health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, you should check with your doctor before you start an exercise program.
That doesn’t mean that exercise is dangerous. Quite the contrary. But your doctor may have certain tips that can make exercise safer for you when you first begin.
Other reasons you should check with your doctor include:
- Any new symptoms you haven’t already discussed.
- Dizziness or shortness of breath.
- Any feeling that your heart is skipping, racing, or fluttering.
- Chest pain or pressure.
- Recent hip or back surgery.
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.