Exercise. The very thought of it can induce tears in those who do not enjoy physical activity. For those who have medical issues, exercise is an even more complicated venture. Fatigue, aches, pains, depression, weight gain, and so on can create seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
We know that physical fitness is “good for us.” Healthcare professionals recommend exercise. Insurance companies and employers promote physical fitness because ultimately it is good for business. Just pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV and it’s clear that athletes and sports are a popular part of our culture. Even the office of the President encourages exercise and has done so since 1956 with the creation of what is now known as the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
The benefits of regular exercise are well established. It prevents, reduces or improves arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease. Being physically active may improve sleep, reduce food cravings, and help us feel more energetic. Certain fitness programs can improve flexibility, balance, tone, strength and stamina.
If this is true, then how do we get moving? The key may be the way we perceive exercise. If we view exercise as a chore or something that creates pain, then physical activity may feel like a barrier rather than freedom. Perhaps the first step is as simple as replacing the words “exercise” and “fitness” with “play” and “fun.” If exercise is seen as an act of recreation or play, it might help us to move in the right direction.
Being willing to move is important but not enough to propel us off the couch. How do we get started? First, consult your healthcare provider. There may be medical reasons to limit or modify a fitness program. After your provider gives you the green light, it is time to develop an action plan.
Begin by setting short and long-term goals. Goals should be reasonable, specific, measurable, and time-limited. Start small and gradually work up to a goal. If the long-term goal is to walk 30 minute four days a week by the end of the year, then set a short-term goal such as 5 minute walks, 3 days a week for the next month.
Attach a reward to the goal. The reward can be something small, but still desirable. Choose a healthy reward. A hot bath is a better choice than a piece of chocolate cake. Other examples are new exercise clothes, like socks or warm-up jacket. Exercise gadgets such as a pedometer, heart rate monitor make great rewards. My favorite is additional time for relaxation or engaging in a favorite activity.
Evaluate the goal. If the goal is reached, congratulate yourself and collect the reward. What made the goal attainable? If the goal is not met, evaluate the reasons. Was the goal realistic? Is it a goal worthy of commitment? What interfered with reaching the goal? Can something be done differently that will make the goal more achievable? Perhaps the goal was too big and needed to be broken down into smaller parts. Whether the goal is met or not, praise is important. The effort alone has merit. After goal assessment, set another or commit to the same goal. Continue to celebrate every victory.
Don’t forget: Begin exercise by warming up, followed by stretching. Cool down and stretch at the end. For those new to exercise, a reasonable beginning regimen might be to walk a few minutes, stretch, and call it a day. Allow a day of active rest between weight training workouts. Active rest means taking a break from strength training but does not mean spending it all on the couch.
Next week: Stuck? Kick Starting Your Fitness Program