Add Exercise to Your Life
Author : Jamie Spencer    -   Subject : Exercise

    We all know that exercise is good for us. That's why so many of us put working out at the top of our list of New Year's resolutions—year after year after year. It's not that we don't have good intentions. But more often than not, once the initial burst of enthusiasm wears off, the demands of daily life take over and our well-laid fitness plans slip away until the next January 1. In fact, about half of all people who start an aerobic exercise program drop out within the first six months, according to a study published in the January 1994 Sports Medicine magazine.

    The key to success, experts agree, is to make exercise an essential part of your life—not just one more chore on an already burdened list of things to do. It should be a regular part of your routine, like brushing your teeth. That doesn't mean you have to be a fitness fanatic, however, to reap the benefits of exercise. According to a study published in the February 1, 1995, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, even a moderate level of physical activity brings rewards in improved health and a reduction in the risk of heart disease and cancer.

    Jumping The Hurdles To Fitness

    For most people, the biggest obstacle to getting enough exercise is time, says Nancy O'Hare, Sc.D., a clinical exercise physiologist at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. The demands of work, home, and family often end up taking priority over getting fit. There are a number of strategies for tackling this problem. One way is to incorporate your exercise time into the time you spend with your family.

    Being active as a family not only eases scheduling, it also encourages children to follow in their parents' footsteps. "Parents are great role models," says Richard Harker, M.D., a family physician at the West Shore Medical Office, a HealthAmerica affiliate in Camp Hill, PA. "When parents are active, it sends a message that they consider exercise an important priority. And if Mom and Dad are battling high cholesterol or high blood pressure, they set an example that could help children prevent some of these problems later on in their own lives."

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine both recommend doing a total of 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity such as walking, most preferably all days of the week, to improve your overall health and reduce the risk of disease. "You can break this amount up into 10-minute segments to make it easier to fit into your day," O'Hare says. "The cumulative total is what matters. The point is just to get moving."

    Improving overall fitness—that is, reducing body fat, increasing lean body tissue, and improving cardiovascular conditioning—requires a bit more work: a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of heart rate-accelerating aerobic activity, such as jogging or swimming, at least three times a week. But the payoff is worth the effort. Being physically fit increases your energy for day-to-day tasks, helps you stay healthier, and reduces stress.

    Working exercise into your life doesn't mean you have to join an expensive health club or buy a lot of special equipment or a fancy new outfit. You can do lots of things right outside your front door, at any time of year, and at little or no expense. "The most important thing is to find activities that you enjoy doing, so exercise becomes a lifelong habit," says O'Hare.

    Here are some suggestions for activities you can do in the coming year, either alone or with friends, a partner, or your entire family. If you have not been very active, be sure to discuss your exercise plan with your physician and ask him or her about any health concerns you may have, such as heart disease, back problems, or diabetes, before you begin. Then start slowly.


    Experts agree that walking is one of the best exercises around. "Walking is great because you can do it at any age," says Martin W. Sklaire, M.D., a pediatrician in Madison, Connecticut, and former chairman of the Section on School Health for the American Academy of Pediatrics. And walking is easy to fit into even the busiest day.

    If your office is close to home, for example, you can walk to work instead of driving or taking public transportation. If you take the bus or subway, you can get off a stop or two before you usually do and walk the rest of the way. You may enjoy walking during your lunch hour. Even if you walk 10 minutes, you will be a third of the way toward your 30 minute daily goal. You can also incorporate walking into other everyday activities. When you drive to the mall, for instance, park at the far end of the parking lot. Or walk to the grocery store or the movie theater.

    Take the dog for a stroll around the block instead of letting him run in the yard. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. At the office, use the water cooler or rest room farthest from your desk, or get up and walk to a colleague's office for a discussion instead of using the phone. Taking advantage of such small opportunities increases your overall level of activity without a lot of extra planning.

    Of course, you can also walk just to walk. To make it more interesting, you may want to pick a destination, such as a park, and walk to it. For families, Sklaire recommends nature walks, which allow children to learn along the way, or a walk to a spot where you can have a picnic. If you live near the coast, walking on a beach or exploring tide pools might be an option. City dwellers might walk to a museum or explore a new neighborhood. Parents can get exercise while taking an infant or toddler out in a stroller. If you are concerned about safety, try organizing a walking group or heading indoors to a mall. Malls are also good destinations for bad-weather days or during the winter, when it's too cold, icy, or dark to walk outdoors.

    Fitting in Fitness

    If your life seems busier every year, it may be difficult to find the time to exercise. Here are some suggestions for making it work.

    You'll be more likely to stick with exercise if you don't fight your body's natural rhythms. If you're a morning person, try exercising before work. If you're a night owl, you may prefer an evening workout.
    Incorporate some exercise into your commute. Walk or bike to the office, or take 15 minutes to walk part of the way. This builds in exercise during a time you've already committed to travel.
    Plan active get-togethers with friends and family. Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, go skating. Take a walk with your spouse before leaving for the office in the morning.
    Give yourself options in case of bad weather or changes in your schedule. If you exercise outdoors, try an indoor track or a mall. Home exercise equipment allows you to substitute another activity for your usual one.
    Other Aerobic Activities
    When most of us think of exercise, we think of aerobic activities—running, hiking, biking, swimming, skiing, dancing, or sports such as touch football, soccer, racquetball, or tennis. Of course, aerobic activities also include fitness classes, such as those offered at most health clubs or your local YMCA. Aerobic activities increase your heart rate and make you breathe harder. They work the large muscle groups, such as the back, shoulders, and legs. To increase cardiovascular fitness, aerobic exercise should be done continuously for 20 to 30 minutes or more.

    As with other forms of exercise, you can do most of these activities with friends, your partner, or family. Parents who run or bike can purchase child carriers so that children can come along; or a parent can run while a child rides a bike alongside. Hiking, like walking, can be a low-impact activity that people can do at any age. If done vigorously (uphill or at a rate that makes you breathe harder and makes your heart beat faster), hiking provides a good aerobic workout.

    Some people find that they are most consistent and motivated about exercise if they sign up for classes or join a club. Other people prefer to be more independent. Before investing a lot of money in memberships or equipment, it's important to evaluate what will work best for you. Ask yourself questions such as these:

    Will you enjoy doing the activity you've chosen month after month?
    Will it cost money? If so, can you afford it?
    If you choose to go to an exercise facility, is it convenient for you to get there?
    Is suitable child care available if you need it?
    Could the climate where you live interfere with your exercise plan? That is, is it too hot to run outside on your lunch hour or too snowy to ride your bicycle to work in the mornings?
    If you don't think the activities mentioned above give you enough options or if you'd like to try something new, here are some other aerobic ideas: in-line skating, snowshoeing or snowboarding, rowing or kayaking, and playing squash or volleyball.

    Games And Other Diversions
    Playing games can be a fun way to get moving. Try flying a kite, throwing a Frisbee, or playing catch. Organize a soccer or kickball game with a few friends or a group of children. Go apple or berry picking. Play tag. Climb trees with your children.

    While doing chores may not seem like much fun, some of these activities can provide a good workout. Raking leaves, shoveling snow, gardening, sweeping, or cleaning up your neighborhood all count toward your 30 minutes a day of physical activity. Keep up the good work!

    Remember that there are many ways that you can include fitness in your day. As Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman put it, "We don't have to be fully regimented, highly aerobic and thigh-mastered athletes in order to be fit. It appears that all we have to do is put one foot in front of the other. Up the stairs. Down the block. Around the corner. In the garden. To and from work."

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