Friday, September 16, 2011

Supercharge Your Life with Exercise

Fun ways to boost energy and combat stress

Exercise Guide for Exercise Haters

If you are even thinking about ways to fit exercise into your bursting-at-the-seams schedule, you are on the right track. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise—even just 15 minutes a day—helps ease depression, enhances self-image, relieves stress, and much more. That’s right, exercise makes you happy, and you don’t have to be a gym rat to do it. By making “start slow” and “have fun” your mottos, you’ll be well on your way to using physical activity as a tool to make you feel better every day. 

The life-changing benefits of exercise

Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise improves your health and your physique, but did you know that it has even greater benefits for your energy, mood, and brainpower?
  • Eases stress and anxiety. A twenty-minute bike ride won’t sweep away life’s troubles, but exercising regularly helps you take charge of anxiety and reduce stress. Aerobic exercise releases hormones that relieve stress and promote a sense of well-being.
  • Lifts your mood. Did you know that exercise treats mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication? Exercise also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in our brain that energize our spirits and simply make us feel good.
  • Sharpens brainpower. The same endorphins that make us feel better also help us concentrate and feel mentally sharp for our tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
  • Improves self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful.
  • Boosts energy. Want more energy, better sleep, and a natural shot of joie de vivre? Get moving! Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized.


Reaping the benefits of exercise is easier than you think

Wondering just how active you should be? Current recommendations for physical activity suggest 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. If that seems intimidating, don’t despair. Take heart knowing that you don’t have to train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run a single step to reap the benefits of physical activity.


Moderate exercise means two things:

  • That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
  • That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
You might not have time for 30 minutes of exercise. Or maybe your body is telling you to take a break after 10 minutes. That’s okay. Start with 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. Since exercising gives us more energy, eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. Remember, a few minutes of activity are better than none at all.

Reaping the benefits of exercise: Easy ways to move more

Don’t have 30 minutes to dedicate to yoga or a bike ride? Don’t worry. Think about physical activity as a lifestyle rather than just a single task to check off. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here, there, and everywhere. Need ideas? We’ve got them. 
Easy ways to move more
  • In and around your home. Clean the house, wash the car, tend to the yard and garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep up the sidewalk or patio with a broom.
  • At work and on the go. Bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive, banish all elevators and get to know every staircase possible, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office, take a vigorous walk during your coffee break.
  • With the family. Jog around the soccer field during your kid’s practice, make a neighborhood bike ride part of weekend routine, play tag with your children in the yard, go canoeing at a lake, walk the dog in a new place.
  • Just for fun. Pick fruit at an orchard, boogie to music, go to the beach or take a hike, gently stretch while watching television, organize an office bowling team, take a class in martial arts class, dance, or yoga.


Reaping the benefits of exercise: Tips for getting started

Exercise makes us feel great, but taking that first step towards getting active is easier said than done. If you’re having trouble beginning, you’re not alone. 

Tips for getting started in an exercise program

  • Take it slow. The best thing you can do to ease yourself into a fitness plan is to take a moderate approach. Asking too much too soon leads to frustration and injuries. Start with what you feel comfortable, go at your own pace, and keep your expectations realistic. For example, training for a marathon when you’ve never run before may be a bit daunting, but you could give yourself the goal of participating in an upcoming 5k walk for charity.
  • Schedule it. You don’t go to important meetings and appointments spontaneously, you schedule them. If you have trouble fitting exercise into your schedule, consider it an important appointment with yourself and mark it on your daily agenda. Even the busiest amongst us can find a 10-minute slot to pace up and down an office staircase.
  • Go easy on yourself. Do you feel bad about your body? Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the goals of getting fit. Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with people at a variety of fitness levels. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.

If you feel pain or discomfort while working out, stop and gently stretch. If you feel better, slowly and gently resume your workout. If you are sweating, even lightly, your heart rate has increased. In the beginning, there’s no need to pressure yourself to exercise for a specific amount of time. Try exercising for even 5 minutes once or twice a day and gradually build up. And remember, short spurts of activity are just fine.

Reaping the benefits of exercise: Tips for making fitness fun

You are more likely to exercise if you find enjoyable, convenient activities. Give some thought to your likes and dislikes, and consider that preferences can change over time. Here are some ways to find the right exercise for you.

Pair an activity you enjoy with your exercise 

Pair an activity you enjoy with your exerciseThere are numerous activities that qualify as exercise. The trick is to find something you enjoy that forces you to be active. Pairing exercise with another activity makes it easier and more fun. Simple examples include:
  • Taking a dance or yoga class.
  • Blasting some favorite music and dancing with your kids.
  • Making a deal with yourself to watch your favorite TV shows while on the treadmill or stationary bike.
  • Workout with a buddy, and afterwards enjoy coffee or a movie.
  • Enjoying outdoor activities such as golf, playing frisbee or even yard work or gardening. 

Reaping the benefits of exercise: Tips for staying motivated

The miracle of exercise is that if you ask your body to do a little bit more work, your body will respond. And if you continue to ask more of your body over an extended period of time, you’ll vastly increase your ability to perform physical activities. Walking around the block becomes walking half a mile, and then a mile, and perhaps even several miles.
Find a few activities that will keep you healthy and strong, and stay with them for as long as they are enjoyable. If they lose their interest, it’s time to shake up your routine. Add other activities or alter the way you pursue the ones that have worked so far. Relying on workout buddies for encouragement and support can also keep you going.

Make exercise a social activity

Exercise can be a fun time to socialize with friends. For those who enjoy company but dislike competition, a running club, water aerobics, or dance class may be the perfect thing. Others may find that a little healthy competition keeps the workout fun and exciting. If this is your case, you might seek out tennis partners, join an adult soccer league, regular pickup basketball game or a volleyball team.

Make exercise a team effort

For many, a workout partner is a great motivator. For example, if you won’t get out of bed to swim yourself, but you would never cancel on a friend, find a swim buddy. Even if you prefer more solitary activities, exercising with a friend, in a class, or in a group helps keep you motivated and can provide positive feedback if you are getting frustrated. You might also have an easier time getting started if you participate in a more structured activity.

Getting the whole family involved

If you have a family, there are many ways to exercise together. The best part is that kids learn by example, and if you exercise as a family you are setting a great example for their future. Also, since physical activity promotes mental health by reducing stress, boosting self-esteem, and relieving anxiety, an active family is a happy family! Family activities might include:
  • Family walks in the evening if weather permits. Infants or young children can ride in a stroller.
  • Walking the dog together.
  • Seasonal activities, like skiing or ice-skating in the winter and hiking, swimming or bicycling in the summer can both make fun family memories and provide healthy exercise.

Do I need different types of exercise?

Different types of exercise benefits your health in different ways:
  • Aerobic activities like running, biking and swimming strengthen your heart and increase your endurance.
  • Strength training like weight lifting or resistance training builds muscle and bone mass, improves balance and prevents falls. It’s one of the best counters to frailty in old age.
  • Flexibility exercises like stretching and yoga help prevent injury, enhance range of motion, reduce stiffness, and limit aches and pains.
At first, just focus on getting any kind of exercise, whatever it may be. As exercising becomes your habit, try adding variety. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.

Safety tips for beginning exercisers

If you’ve never exercised before, or it’s been a significant amount of time since you’ve attempted any strenuous physical activity, keep in mind the following general health precautions:
  • Get medical clearance. If you have special health issues such as an existing heart condition or high blood pressure, talk with your doctor or health practitioner and let him or her know your plans.
  • Stretch. No matter what form of exercise you choose, you’ll benefit from adding stretching exercises to gain flexibility and range of motion. Stretching is the best form of injury-prevention for new exercisers.
  • Drink plenty of water. Your body performs best when it’s properly hydrated. Failing to drink enough water when you are exerting yourself over a prolonged period of time, especially in hot conditions, can be dangerous. 

Other tips for keeping your exercise program going

  • Set goals. Set some achievable goals that have to do with participation and effort, not necessarily how much weight you can lift, miles you can bike or pounds you’ve lost. If you stumble in your efforts, regroup and immediately begin again. Decide how you’ll celebrate when you arrive at your goals.
  • Be consistent. Make your workouts habitual by exercising at the same time every day, if possible. Eventually you will get to the point where you feel worse if you don’t exercise. That dull, sluggish feeling fitness buffs get when they don’t work out is a strong incentive to get up and go.
  • Record your progress. Try keeping an exercise journal of your workouts. In a matter of months, it will be fun to look back at where you began. Keeping a log also holds you accountable to your routine.
  • Keep it interesting. Think of your exercise session as time to yourself. Enjoy that time by listening to music, chatting with friends, and varying locations. Exercise around natural beauty, new neighborhoods, and special parks. Above all, avoid workout boredom by mixing it up and trying new routines.
  • Spread the word. Talking to others about your fitness routines will help keep motivation strong and hold you accountable to your exercise program. You’ll be delighted and inspired hearing ways your friends and colleagues stay active and on track. Who knows, you might even convince someone else to try to be more active.
  • Get inspired. Read a health and fitness magazine or visit an exercise website and get inspired with photos of people being active. Sometimes reading about and looking at images of people who are healthy and fit can motivate you to move your body.

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