Popular culture would have us believe that if we’re not logging hundreds of miles running marathons, grinding out a daily online cycling class or hitting the gym before dawn like pro bodybuilders that we’re not working out hard enough. Or long enough. Or far enough. That, friends, is folly.
Truth: Our bodies need a certain amount of movement (AKA exercise) to function well. People who enjoy regular exercise feel better, sleep better, tend to eat better, have decreased incidence of diseases like type 2 diabetes and some cancers and they maintain better mobility as they age. And it doesn’t take as much as you may think.
The key to starting an exercise routine is to start. The Department of Health and Human Services tells us that adults should shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. To that, add two or three strength training sessions a week and that’s it.
Here’s a simple way to tell whether you’re exercising at a low, moderate or high intensity:
- Low-intensity exercise: You are able to talk in full sentences, hold a conversation or even sing.
- Moderate-intensity exercise: You can speak in full sentences, but not easily. You may need to pause and singing is probably out of the question.
- Vigorous exercise: You cannot speak in full sentences because you’re breathing too hard.
The goal for most people, especially beginners, is to choose moderate activity that makes you breathe more heavily than normal but doesn’t quite make you out of breath.
Here’s the best advice we can offer you. Do not go from no exercise to a full slate of workouts and movement all at once. The idea is to gradually add activity to your routine while allowing your body time to acclimate and adapt as you go. Demanding too much from yourself can leave you frustrated, overwhelmed, sore and ready to skip anything except maybe a binge session on the couch. We’ve also put together seven key pieces of information to help you start strong and stay motivated.
It’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before embarking on your exercise/movement journey. It’s especially important if you have any concerns about your fitness or haven’t exercised much over the past few years, or if you have chronic health problems, like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.
Our seven tips:
All movement counts. Even in small amounts. Be sure to count housekeeping chores and activities like vacuuming and mowing the yard toward your moderate activity goal. Moderate aerobic exercise can be as simple as a brisk walk. Other moderate activities include biking, swimming or water walking. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such as running, using a rowing machine, doing heavy yardwork, cross-country skiing and aerobic dancing. Even if you can’t meet your weekly quota of moderate exercise, remember that doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Strength training doesn’t just mean dumbbells. It can include workouts using weight machines, your own body weight, heavy bags, resistance bands or resistance paddles in the water, or activities such as some types of yoga rock climbing.
A quick, no-equipment strength routine, which you can do almost anywhere could start with pushups, leg raises, squats and planks. Start on your knees and start with one pushup. Then, give yourself a high five! Add laying down leg raises, maybe five on each side. Do that twice a week for a couple of weeks and then increase the number you perform and add some squats, planks or walking lunges. Before you know it, this will become a regular part of your routine.
Pro tip: Do your exercises during commercials while you watch your favorite show. Or, if you’re streaming, between episodes.
Think about your ‘why.’ Exercising is easier to prioritize when you’re nice and clear about why you’re adding it to your routine. Is your main reason about stress relief? Exercise is a great mood booster. Maybe you want to make sure you’re healthy enough to play with your kids or grandkids for years to come. It could be about weight loss and improving fitness. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or pre-type-2 diabetes and you want to use exercise to improve your health. Keep your ‘why’ top-of-mind by writing it down. Maybe stick it to the refrigerator or your mirror for days you need motivation.
Listen to your body. We’re spending a lot of time on this one because it’s important! Your body is your buddy and will tell you if you’re doing too much too soon. It will also tell you if you’re holding back and are ready to work a little harder. There are three levels of bodily signals you may experience around working out. The signals in the first level are tricksters you should generally ignore: it’s that feeling when you want to get in a workout but your mind is just not on board. It’s that little voice that tells you to do it later, just sit down, you’re probably too tired. That sort of sluggish funkiness is a trap! Ignore it and do a light workout anyway. Then check in with yourself – odds are really good that you’ll feel better after a little exercise!
The next level of chatter you may hear from your body runs the gamut from a little fatigue right in the middle of a workout, all the way to a burning sensation in your muscles during a tough session. When you’re new to exercise it’s good to push yourself, but not too much until you start to have a feel for your limits. Be careful not to get stuck in easy town, though. The burning of lactic acid you feel in your muscles is normal – you should ‘feel the burn’ even during beginner exercises. That’s ‘good pain.’
That being said, level three, wherein you push past your limits or feel sharp or persistent pain that starts mid-workout is nothing to fool around with. That kind of pain could represent an injury. Pain, which may be a result of injury and which you should probably contact your doctor about, includes:
- Sudden sharp pain
- Pain that’s sharp and makes it so you can’t move a body part normally or at all
- Pain at the site of a previous injury or surgery
- Lots of swelling, pain and a body part that looks wrong
- Pain that doesn’t ease after using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine and resting for a few days
- Worsening pain
Start small. If your job or regular daily routine does not involve swinging heavy weights overhead, climbing ropes or flipping over tractor tires, your starting workout routine definitely should not either.
Plan for success. If you’re planning to walk or jog first thing in the morning, get set the night before. If you need a jolt of caffeine pre-walk, program the coffee pot so you don’t have to wait. Lay out your shoes and clothes. Make your playlist or choose an audiobook. Heck, sleep in your running clothes if you need to! If you’re heading out on a dark winter morning, turn on bright lights and do a few warm-up stretches. If you’re planning to exercise at the gym, pack your bag ahead of time and make sure you have what you need: ear buds, water bottle, socks and maybe your favorite cozy sweats to slip into when you’re finished.
Have fun! After all, that’s part of the whole point. Don’t think of it as a chore. Sometimes, it may be more appealing to think of your yoga class as hanging out with your friends…while you happen to be doing a little yoga. Out for a walk and your favorite song comes on? Bust out a few dance moves or a little shimmy. Remember, our bodies are made to move!
If you have questions about getting in shape, talk to your primary care provider. For more lifestyle and wellness content, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.