Exercise does not have to be complicated.
Does heart disease run in the family? Maybe you just want more energy? Or perhaps to lose a few pounds? There are so many benefits to exercise. So why do so many people struggle to get it in?
I WAS THE GIRL THAT GOT SWEATY IN GYM CLASS.
Exercising has always made me feel good. As a kid and teenager I was the overactive friend that was involved in everything. I played soccer, tennis, swam, ran cross country and track and was a cheerleader. And for those of you who don't think cheerleading is much exercise, try doing your school's fight song routine 8 times in a row in front of an auditorium of peers and you may just change your mind.
When I look back, running is what stands out most to me. I did this for decades. In grade school and junior high my younger sister Colleen, my mom and I did 5k runs on the weekend for fun. Who am I kidding. We did it for the shirts as well. In high school I was on the variety cross country team and got to run in states. In college running was how I explored the neighborhoods around The Ohio State University's campus. I would even go running through the neighborhoods of Caracas when I lived in Venezuela during my early 20's (and got lots of strange looks and catcalls). As a young Detroit professional going out and running a half marathon after a long day of work felt normal. It took just under 2 hours, and I spent the majority of those miles running along Lake St. Clair which is breathtakingly beautiful. The release of endorphins would help me deal with any work drama and get me back into a decent mood. My running wasn't pretty, but it felt good. My left leg kicked out awkwardly with each stride. And it looked like my feet were barely leaving the ground. Somehow I managed to still move forward at a pretty decent pace.
I NO LONGER CONSIDER MYSELF A RUNNER.
The positives no longer outweigh the negatives. If I run too much, and if I push myself too hard I end up with a painful RA flare in my knee, ankle or foot. Which means I'm not able to walk the next day. I remember trying to run with my son Cole when he was just a baby in the chariot. I wanted to be that active fit mom with the happy kid in the stroller who was wide-eyed and smiling. However, each time we would go out for a few miles I would get a RA flare in one of my shoulders a few hours later and end up with my arm in a sling for 2 days. It took me about 10 attempts to realize that the vision was not worth it.
What is the right outlet for me today? I can sprint full force the length of the block. And then sprint the length of another block. And another. I love how I feel when I am short of breath and it feels like my heart is pounding in my ears. And it doesn't take too much time to arrive at this state. For me the right outlets are these short sprints, mountain biking, yoga, walking my dog Lulu and Palango—a Zumba-esqe fitness platform I used to teach. These forms of exercise all represent movement that my body likes.
THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE ARE NUMEROUS.
For me the endorphin release is noticeable. What are endorphins? They are natural opioids that are released within our body when exercising. They fight our perception of pain. They also help us cope with stress, boost confidence and alleviate anxiety and depression. It doesn't take much for the body to do some pretty cool things. Stay on the couch and you will most certainly miss out.
So why is there still so much resistance to exercising? Is it that people don't like to perspire? I hope not. I learned through the Institute for Functional Medicine that we release 10 times as many toxins in our sweat as we do in our urine. Toxins are not our friends. Anything we can do to safely remove them, we should.
Exercise also makes us smarter. A tough workout will promote neurogenesis--the creation of new brain cells. The benefits? Better decision-making and higher thinking. In a study of college kids half were told to exercise 1-2 hours before a test. And they ended up doing much better than the control group. But don't just take my words. Do an experiment. Prior to exercising rate yourself on a few factors. On a 10 point scale measure where you are on energy, stress and clear-headedness. After the run, see if there is any positive movement on those measures.
STILL FEELING HESITANT?
Well that's another issue. And we can get to the root of it.
Recently I was meeting with a client who has her nutrition dialed in, is starting to sleep better and deals very well with stress. However she was very hesitant to talk about exercise, much less embrace it. We did a simple laddering exercise. I said the word "exercise" about 15 times. After each time I said it, I paused and she filled in a word. In the beginning her words were more about the extra effort and time demand. Towards the end her answers shifted to childhood experiences of being one of the last kids to be chosen for teams. Ouch. This is pain that she had been subconsciously carrying for decades. She was surprised at the memory. I pushed her to reframe the meaning exercise carried for her and to give it a new positive spin. Over the course of a few weeks and a lot of journaling, she now has the motivation to get moving and start sweating.
My client identified her WHY and is finding time in her schedule for exercise. So how about you? Are you looking for your own motivation?
Perhaps these 5 tips on how to get in more exercise and movement will nudge you in that direction:
1. Create your plan
Identify your internal and external motivators. Lose that weight? Fit into a pair of favorite pants? Have clearer thinking? Have more enthusiasm and energy? Once you know why you want to exercise create a solid plan. Make sure that it is SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Write down your goals and start date. Don't set the bar too high or it will backfire. Keep a log. If the week goes by and you didn't get any exercise or movement in, choose a different goal. Make it easier. If you have to start out with 5 minutes of exercise. Start there. That's okay.
2. Shift your mindset
In a study of housekeepers half were told that their work was exercise. Within 4 weeks they made significant health gains just from that mindset. So say out loud, "It feels good to move. I love to exercise." Now say it again. Retrain your brain so that exercise does not feel like a chore, but a daily gift of bliss. It may not be now, but at some point you will experience the high. And at that point it will become much easier to prioritize daily movement.
3. Limit sleeping and sitting to about 90% of every 24 hours.
Sounds easy, yes? Many will ask, how much is enough? At a minimum, shoot for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week—a half hour 5 times a week. Want to challenge yourself? Please say yes. American guidelines recommend 150-300 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity and 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. Stressed about where to find the time? Draw a pie chart of how you spend your time today. Where is most of it going? Hopefully a good portion is going to sleep, and there will be significant amount of time going to work and transit time. Ideally there is still be a nice chunk to play around with. Still don't know what to do? What about limiting screen time? Oh boy.
4. Move like a young child
Play tag. Crawl like an animal. Squat instead of sit. I am serious—try it! Use your body as it is designed to function best to stay young. Notice how a child will sit while making a sand castle at the beach? Embrace a movement first philosophy. Think about your basic movement patterns. Take a walk—and walk like a fashion model. Stand up, push your heals together, hold the tension and look up. Notice what happens to the gluteal muscles as a consequence? Notice how the slouch fades away as the chest becomes strong? Focus on your movement.
5. Make it fun.
I am pretty sure I work out harder if I listen to good music. In my early 30's I would run on a treadmill and listen to Body Movin' by the Beastie Boys—on repeat. Some of you may question my definition of good music but I swear I ran harder when I listened to it. One of the reasons I loved teaching Palango was due to the up-beat, happy Latin music the movement was choreographed to match. Mountain biking—okay I don't listen to music, I am too in the zone...but the zone is my happy place and that in itself is fun. Do whatever it takes to get yourself moving.
How do you like to move?
Lucky us, we are genetically built to move. Yes some do it prettier than others, but we are all designed for movement. And now you know that slowly getting out of the recliner and shuffling to the bathroom every few hours as you spend your evening watching TV is NOT what I'm talking about.
What's better when feeling stressed—a warm bath or a 20 minute fast walk or jog? Yep, get out the door and move your body.
Body Movin'...Body Movin'...uh oh...Body Movin'... I can't get it out of my head!