Hate exercise? Small moves can make a big difference

A new year typically brings new resolutions.

Exercise-related resolutions consistently make the top 10 list, but up to 80 percent of resolutions to be healthier, including promises to exercise more, are tossed aside by February.

Fewer than half of American adults are as active as they should be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week.

Research shows that every single system in the body benefits from activity. You sleep better. You have more energy. You find yourself in a better mood. You think more clearly and remember better. Your bones become stronger. Your body also responds better to insulin, which lowers your risk of diabetes. And you significantly reduce your risk for many cancers. All of that is in addition to the better known weight and heart benefits of physical activity.

Adding even small amounts of movement to your daily routine goes a long way.

Brisk walking, at a pace of at least a 20-minute mile, provides health benefits similar to running, and probably more social benefits. Plus, your risk of injury is much lower. And you can walk – for free with nothing more than comfortable shoes – almost anywhere: your neighborhood, your office, or in lieu of waiting behind the wheel of your car in the pickup line at your child’s school. A 22-minute walk every day, or two 11-minute ones, would put you just over 150 minutes every week.

It isn’t cheating to break your 150 minutes a week into small increments. In fact, even for people who are physically fit and exercise every day, breaking up periods of sitting is critically important. Even with getting enough exercise, sitting for the rest of the day can undo the health benefits, so reducing time spent sitting would be a great starting goal.

Many experts who work with clients or patients to set goals use the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based) to guide goal-setting. This simple method could help you achieve a goal to sit less and move more in the new year:

  • Be specific. Rather than just “sit less, move more,” include when you will start and how will you do it.  For example, make a list of how you can get more steps in each day by doing specific things, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Make it measurable. “Less” and “more” are hard to measure. Instead, try, “Walk for 5 minutes after every hour of sitting.”
  • Make it attainable. If you currently don’t exercise at all, 150 minutes a week may not be realistic. How about three 20-minute walks per week, and build up from there? And choose an activity you might enjoy.
  • Set realistic goals. Break up challenging goals into smaller, more realistic targets.
  • Set a time by which you will meet your goal. Will you take a certain number of steps by noon each day? Or, will you build up to 150 minutes a week by mid-April? You’re more likely to achieve short-term goals that lead into a long-term one.

Exercise can become part of your lifestyle, without too much inconvenience.

  • Get the family involved. Play tag, go on a scavenger hunt at a park, or walk to your favorite hangout.
  • Park farther away from your workplace, the store, the library, etc.
  • Walk during your breaks at work and over your lunch period.
  • Instead of having coffee with friends, take a walk with them.
  • Whenever you are on the phone, stand up and walk around.
  • Try to find ways to make walking more meaningful. For example, try walking your own dog or a shelter dog. Dogs make great exercise companions that will never turn down an opportunity to walk.

Setbacks happen. Don’t let one slip-up derail your whole goal. When possible, have a backup plan to deal with barriers like weather or time constraints. And celebrate the small victories you make toward reaching longer-term goals.

This article by Libby Richards of Purdue University is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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