8 Tips for a Smarter, Happier, Healthier You Through Movement & Exercise
We all know that exercise is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves to achieve improved health. I could fill pages and pages listing the many benefits of exercise. Every part of our body benefits–our heart, blood vessels, nerves, hormones, muscles, lungs, skin, and especially our brain. Exercise improves brain function and memory and it has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressants for treating depression. So yes, exercise will in fact make you smarter, happier and healthier.
Despite knowing this, it can be intimidating to start incorporating physical activity or movement into our lives. I know first-hand the challenges of starting an exercise program after being pretty darn sedentary for a few years. Between my career, family and obligations I too didn’t think I had time to do it and I was always getting injured before I could make real progress. But by following the steps outlined below I went from rarely exercising to competing in my first triathlon injury free. With a little planning and courage you too can enjoy the many benefits that movement and exercise provide.
1) Write down your fitness goals. The point is to create goals that are specific, measurable, include a timeline, and are realistic for your life and fitness level at this moment. Have you always wanted to run a 5K or bike across your state? Tap into what is going to motivate you and also be completely obtainable. Refer to your goals often and track your progress.
Examples of fitness goals:
Run a 5K at a 10min/mile pace by May 1st
Lose 10 pounds by Dec 1st.
Walk 3 times per week starting today.
2) Create a fun strategy for reaching your goals. What do you love to do? There are so many fun ways to incorporate movement into your life. If you hate running, find something else pronto! Some options include biking, swimming, walking, hiking, dancing, yoga, weight-lifting, water aerobics, cross fit, martial arts, and jazzercise. Then decide how much time you will spend, how many workouts, do you need to get a gym membership, do you need to tune up your bike? The details need to be addressed before your start date or it becomes an excuse or reason for not following through. Believe me, I know how it goes. It can be very helpful to talk with a Naturopathic Doctor to help you create realistic fitness goals, strategies to achieve those goals, and for support and inspiration.
3) Schedule workouts in advance. This can be recorded on a calendar, a spreadsheet or a smartphone app. This step is important because workouts left to chance or with the approach “I’ll do it when I feel like it” increases the likelihood of skipping workouts. Ask yourself where you can fit it into your routine and be creative. Is it convenient to go to the gym on your way to work or on your way home? Can you replace driving to work with walking or biking? Can you squeeze a walk over lunch or use a jogging stroller and bring baby along for a ride? One of the most common excuses not to exercise is “not having time” and a set schedule will overcome this obstacle because you will make time and keep that time period on your schedule for workouts.
4) Get proper fitting shoes for exercising. Before purchasing shoes, have your gait analyzed so you get shoes that are more likely to fit. This involves walk/running barefoot on a treadmill for a couple of minutes while your gait is videotaped and analyzed. Many shoe stores provide this service for free. Most people are not wearing proper fitting shoes and this can make a world of difference in preventing injury and increasing comfort.
5) Schedule a health check-up with your doctor before starting an exercise program if you have a history of heart disease, asthma, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, liver disease, dizziness, chest pain, or difficulty breathing at rest or when you lay down. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a health check-up before exercising if have 2 or more of the following: man age 45+, a woman age 55+, a family history of heart disease < age 55, you smoke or quit smoking in last 6 months, you haven’t exercise in 3 or more months, you are overweight or obese.
6) Start slowly and incorporate a variety of activities to prevent injury. The biggest mistake people make when starting to exercise for the first time or after a long break is overdoing it. You must let your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments get accustomed to the stress of exercising and this means starting slowly. When I played sports growing up there was this idea that you have to push through pain to really achieve results or “no pain, no gain.” Fortunately the research does not support that approach. Just the opposite in fact. You will have better results by slowing down or taking a break if you are in pain. It is also important to do a variety of activities so you don’t get overuse injuries. Running is the most notorious for causing injuries so include some low impact workouts (biking, swimming, weight lifting) in your plan to prevent injuries. I highly recommend reading about injury prevention before you begin.
7) Discover what motivates you. The benefits of exercise such as improved mood, energy, better sleep, feeling relaxed, losing weight, getting stronger, better memory and feeling sharper are often enough to keep you motivated once you start but there are plenty of other things you can do as well to help keep you motivated. Signing up periodically for local athletic events, races, and activities is a fun way to keep on track. It is quite inspiring to walk, run, swim, bike or crawl through mud pits alongside people at all stages of fitness in the name of fun. Many of these events are also fundraisers for a good cause which is a great way to contribute while getting some exercise. Finding a workout buddy or group is also a great way to stay motivated. You can use meetup.com, craigslist.org; find out if your local bike shops organize group rides or do an internet search for local running groups, triathlon groups, or Master’s swimming groups.
8) Use resources, get support. You are always welcome to contact me for support and information or you can meet with another trusted health care provider. There are also many excellent books written by experts that serve to inspire, motivate and teach you how to prevent injury and increase your knowledge base. Look under the “Resources” tab-Our Favorites–“Exercise & Fitness” for some of my personal favorites. There are also many websites dedicated to listing local athletic or fundraising events such as www.runningintheusa.com, www.active.com, www.bikeride.com/calendar/
Psychosom Med. 2007 Sep-Oct;69(7):587-96. Epub 2007 Sep 10. Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Doraiswamy PM, Watkins L, Hoffman BM, Barbour KA, Herman S, Craighead WE, Brosse AL, Waugh R, Hinderliter A, Sherwood A. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Box 3119, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA. Blume003@mc.duke.edu