What if you could take a really cheap pill that lowers blood pressure, lowers blood sugar, lowers bad cholesterol, increases good cholesterol, lowers stress and stress hormones, burns calories, makes your heart stronger, keeps you limber, keeps you strong enough to avoid falls as you age, maintains and builds bone mass, limits the amount of time you spend needing assistance at the end of your life, maintains and builds muscle and so much more? That’s what exercise does. Exercise is, as the American College of Sports Medicine says, MEDICINE. Did you know that only about a third of Americans get the recommended amount of exercise? And I’m talking the low end of what’s recommended—about 30 minutes of moderate activity or 20 minutes of vigorous activity most days of the week. Getting physical activity is really, really important. Our bodies are built for it, and the benefits are amazing!
What does “moderate” mean? It gets pretty confusing when you go online, and what is moderate for one person may be low effort for someone else. I like to use breathing as a guide. If you are able to sing, you are not working hard enough. If you…can…only…get…out…one…or…two…words…at…a…time, you’re working vigorously. You should be able to talk, but with some effort; if my mom happens to call when I’m out walking, she knows I’m out walking. If you’re walking, it’s as if you’re late for an appointment. Most people will “shimmer” but probably won’t drip sweat. There are lots of examples of what is “typically” moderate exercise, but for a marathon runner, walking a 17 minute mile is going to be, well, a walk in the park and for someone who is very overweight or obese and has been sedentary for much of his or her life, a 20 minute mile may be close to vigorous.
But I don’t have tiiiime! (Did I sound like a whiny teenager? That was my intent.) Every once in a while I do meet people who have incredibly jam-packed schedules, but when the doctor with five kids, church responsibilities and is on call can get to CrossFit or go on a bike ride, you can do it too. Take an honest look at how you spend your time. Do you watch television? If you can find time for “American Idol,” you can find time for a walk. Your kids whine when you leave? You’ll be a better parent if you’re healthy.
But it’s booooring! (See how the excuses start to sound lame?) Suck it up. I don’t feel like doing laundry or cleaning out the fridge—it’s boring. Get creative and find a way to make your exercise time more entertaining. I listen to books on my iPod when I walk or go hiking and look forward to finding out what happens next. (I actually listen when I clean out the fridge too.) Some people watch TV or go with friends or do something they really enjoy doing, like dancing. Or try something totally different like spinning or yoga or Zumba. Most people who teach exercise classes are very helpful and kind to new students; they want you to succeed, and like everybody else in this world, they want you to like them.
But I still don’t want to, and you can’t make me! Figure out why you don’t want to and start problem-solving. Brainstorm—use what you know about yourself to figure out what might work for you. If going with a buddy works for you, then see if a friend will meet you at a yoga class or go for a walk with you. I find that exercise is my “alone time,” so the thought of chatting during my workout sounds awful. Are you competitive? Sign up for a race. Do you feel like an idiot at the gym but you’d like to feel more comfortable? Hire a personal trainer. You don’t have to buy 20 sessions—you can sign up for a few so that you can learn what you need to do and feel comfortable. It’s too hot? Go in the morning. It’s too cold? Put on a coat and a hat. Honestly, I used to use the “too cold” excuse, now I know I just have to dress right, and I get to see the most beautiful winter days with nobody else around.
But I’m too out of shape, too fat, too embarrassed to exercise! Get comfortable clothes. Yes, there are bras out there for everyone. (Seriously, there’s one called “The Last Resort Bra” and can be ordered online.) Buy a few “cute” things, so you feel good. Yoga clothes have gotten so cute lately, and there is exercise clothing for all shapes and sizes. It hurts your knees too much to walk? Try swimming. Not a swimmer? Walk in the pool. Still “too fat to go to the gym”? (I’ve heard that before and understand the sentiment, but have to laugh at the irony!) Remember that old saying, “The people who care don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t care.”
Still nothing? I know a doctor who tells people, “Walk out your door. Walk for 15 minutes. Turn around.” It really can be that simple.
Finally, if nothing else motivates you, remember you’re doing it for your health so you can live a long time and get to do all of those things you want to do. You may get to retire at 65 and even live to 85, but if you haven’t taken care of your body you’re going to be too tired to dance with your granddaughter at her wedding, too sore to visit the Louvre and the Eiffel tower in one day and too broken to be able to live independently.