So you’ve decided that this will be the year you put down the remote, fire up the treadmill and finally achieve that Chris Helmsworth physique (think Thor not Captain Kirk). Good for you! While you might never fully morph into the god of thunder himself, you’re on an important path towards ensuring life-long health and well-being.
Moderate aerobic exercise has a slew of health benefits when done at the recommended 150 minutes a week. It has been proven to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes, certain cancers and has even been proven to bring TuPac back from the dead. Okay, maybe not that last one, but establishing a regular work-out regimen is key in reducing your risk of chronic diseases and maintaining a healthy body weight.
As a general rule, aerobic exercise is the type of activity that makes your heart beat faster. This includes walking, jogging and many types of sports. There are two types of aerobic activity: moderate and vigorous. You know you’re doing moderate aerobic activity when you can carry on a conversation, but don’t quite have the stamina to sing. With vigorous aerobic activity, you find yourself breathing after every couple of words you try to say.
Quick Tip: For people who haven’t been active in a while, even 60 minutes of moderate aerobic activity can produce positive health benefits according to the CDC.
The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition has also outlined two other types of exercise that are fundamental to overall health.
Muscle strengthening activities involve a moderate to high level of intensity working one or more of the following muscle groups: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. This includes activities such as lifting weights and strength training, and should be done twice a week.
Quick Tip: 8 -12 reps of strength training is all you need per session, but they should be done at a level where it is difficult to do another rep without help.
Bone strengthening exercises that put force on your bones, helping to promote bone growth and strength are the other type of exercise. Usually impact-type activities such as running, tennis and basketball produce create this effect.
Establishing a Healthy Routine
So, exercise is great and might very well make you outlast the Energizer bunny, but how do you get started and make it a part of your day to day routine?
Well, the short answer is make sure you set goals for yourself that you can actually reach. It’s estimated that over 80% of people fail to complete their New Year’s resolution and most are out of the running by about three months in. However, establishing realistic goals can greatly improve your chances of success.
- Identify your motivations– It is key to understand why you are beginning a fitness regimen. Are you mainly focused on health goals, personal physique goals or a combination of both? Having a strong hold on your motivations allows you to recognize your progress and stay focused when the going gets hard.
- Begin at a comfortable level – If you have health issues or have not exercised in a long time, start slow. Many people begin with walking and light muscle strengthening activities.
- Pace yourself – You should begin aerobic and strength-based exercises slowly and increase the amount/difficulty over a period of weeks or months. Exercise is effective even in just 10 minute blocks. Also, heart attacks are typically rare during physical activity, but your risk goes up when you suddenly become more active than you were previously.
- Choose activities you like – These can include gardening, yoga, or simply playing with Fido in the park.
- Add in some variety – If you’ve started with a morning walk/jog during the week add in another activity on the weekend to keep you stimulated. Also, remember to try to incorporate muscle and bone strengthening activities into your routine as well.
- Create a Plan of Action – Taking into account your interests and skill level, create a regimen to work exercise into your routine. It can be as simple as walking 45 minutes with a friend or partner two days a week, then doing gardening or yard work on the weekends. If possible, try to target a moderate exercise level.
‘Stepping’ Up Your Game:
Exercise actually turns out to be a kind of funny thing. Unlike all those holiday hugs from Aunt Millie, exercise is something that just keeps getting better the more of it you receive. In fact, current science can’t seem to find an upper limit for the benefits of exercise. Basically, the more you exercise, the more healthful benefits you will see. So once you’ve established a healthy regimen, it’s time to step up your game.
- Add in more vigorous activities – If you’ve started out with moderate exercise, work in more vigorous activities as you go along. Vigorous exercise allows you to achieve health and weight loss benefits more quickly. A general rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous exercise has the same effect as two minutes of moderate exercise.
- Add in more time – If you have committed to 45 minutes a day, and been successful in doing that, begin to increase the amount you exercise. Again, adding in time in small increments is better so you don’t find the task overwhelming. Health.gov recommends that active adults target 300 minutes of exercise a week.
- Add in more weight – Your overall muscle strength and endurance builds up over time. Adding in more weight and increasing strength-training frequency will help you develop stronger muscles.
There you have it: the ABCs of beginning and sticking to your New Year’s fitness plan. It’s so easy Aunt Millie could do it! Well actually, since Aunt Millie is 92 and uses a walker, we recommend she consult her doctor first before beginning a work-out regimen, but you get the idea. There’s no excuse to procrastinate about losing that muffin top or spare tire this year. Achieving a god-like physique may be a few years off, but life-long health and well-being is within your grasp. So lace up your shoes, flip on that treadmill and become part of that coveted 20% of people who make their new year’s fitness goal a reality.