By Joseph Accursio NP
Let’s have a discussion about another subject fraught with peril and misinformation – exercise. There are as many different opinions regarding exercise out there as there are regarding diet. On top of that, every month each of the millions of fitness magazines on the planet publish the next full-body-in-just-four-minutes-a-day-routine-to-end-all-routines exercise plan. Add in what’s trending and anecdotal evidence from friends and acquaintances, and you have very little guidance in selecting a program.
Where to start? With discipline, of course! Like dietary changes…and any change for that matter, deciding to train regularly is a commitment. Make the time, make the plan and make the exchanges, because there are trade-offs. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. Now set down your ideas and get your support system in place. A support system must enable you to achieve your goals. In other words, this isn’t just a cheering section. Its someone or something that can pick up the slack for you as you get started. Proactively eliminate your barriers and it will make things exponentially easier for you when you hit a bump in your road.
On to the actual training part - How do we choose an exercise regimen?
Here are a couple of bullet points:
1. It must be something that you enjoy. Making your body move in new and unusual ways, especially if you’re not accustomed to it, is hard enough. If you hate running and you’re planning on a new 5-mile four-in-the-morning daily run, STOP THIS IMMEDIATELY.
2. Take it SLOWLY. Literal baby steps, especially if you’ve not previously trained. Working out with great intensity and then being so sore you can’t walk for the next week is a major motivation killer. Try ten pushups, ten squats and ten sit-ups today. Tomorrow, make it eleven. Increase it one per day, and before you know it, you’re up to a significant number of reps.
3. DON’T measure progress day to day. Don’t look at yourself daily in the mirror, or count calories, or measure your body fat. This is the road to discouragement. Even though this is an inch-by-inch journey, I recommend you don’t measure physical progress for many weeks yet. Skip the mirror and the scale. Surprise yourself…you will pick up on the little clues along the way.
4. DO keep a log or journal; exercise routines must be systematic. So in this way, you should track your progress. Making it up as you go is also a path to discouragement.
5. DON’T get caught up in trends. Pick something and go with it. The people on the magazines are airbrushed. Pick something, make progress, adjust every 8-12 weeks as you fine tune your focus.
That’s it, in a nutshell.
And which exercises give the greatest bang-for-your-buck? A common rule of thumb is “cardio for length of life, weightlifting for quality of life.” But this largely depends on your goals.
After completing a master’s in Exercise Physiology prior to medical school, a physician friend of mine answers the what-kind-of-exercise question by saying, “Just move!”
What about exercise intensity? Another good rule is this - do as much as you can, for as long as you can and gauge your exercise by how you feel. Stress is good, so don’t be afraid to push it! But, if you’re intensity is causing your workout to be very short or painful in any way, then you’re overdoing it.
Also, despite evidence that indicates “fitbits” and things don’t add much to your routine, another good rule is: if it helps you mentally to stay on track or be motivated, go for it. Some people are heart rate watchers, some are not. Some like to count steps, others do not. As long as you’re not putting any stock in these devices doing the work for you, then they’re ok for motivational purposes.
Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without the general disclaimer: clear your exercise program with your primary care provider before you start, and know the signs of potentially serious health problems with your heart or lungs.