The other half of the equation
Last week we wrote about diet and food. Many readers rightly pointed out that exercise is also important, maybe even more important for health.
Even if you eat right, if you don't move your body you'll find your energy levels falling, joints weakening, and strength and bone density shrinking.
Exercise can improve your mood, make you more creative, extend your lifespan, and improve your quality of life.
Unfortunately I find it really hard to exercise consistently. I'll start something, it will be going really well, then something will happen. I'll get sick, or busy at work, or take a trip.
And then the habit will be broken. The problem is not knowledge but putting that knowledge into practice consistently, day in, day out.
Here are some ideas on various exercise options. I've done all of them at times but haven't managed to turn any of them into a permanent habit.
1. Be more active in everyday life
Try to walk more. Take the stairs instead of elevators. Play with children. Do more housework. Cycle instead of driving. Sit on the floor instead of in chairs (this makes you sit down and get up more, which is good to keep your mobility up). This is the easiest to do, and is a fairly pain-free way to burn calories and get stronger. Getting a pedometer (or an app for your phone) is one good way to walk more, and the 'no stairs' rule also works well.
2. Do bodyweight exercises every day
Either download one of the 'seven minute workout' apps, or make your own combination of squats, push ups, planks, burpees, etc. Do the workout every day (this really helps you make it a habit). Try to set some trigger that reminds you to do it (for example, I do squats when I get to work and before I change into my teaching clothes). The key to this one is to start with ridiculously easy targets (like doing two push ups). Initially the most important thing is to do it consistently. Once you are doing it regularly you can slowly make it more challenging. I started with three push ups, now I am doing twenty every day. Even that makes a difference.
3. Walk 10,000 steps
This is a more focused variation on 1. above. Using an app or pedometer, set a target for how many steps you want to do every day (10,000 seems popular and not too difficult to reach). Towards the end of the day if you haven't reached your target you can go for a quick walk. It's an easy way to permanently up your daily exercise.
4. Weight training
Progressive training with free weights (barbells and dumbbells) seems to be one of the most efficient ways to improve your fitness and health. Weight training improves your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, increases your strength, improves your posture, makes your bones and joints stronger, and makes you look better. Having more muscle means you'll burn more calories every day just to maintain it.
Best of all, it only takes 2-3 workouts a week, each of which can be done in less than an hour. To get started check out Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe or take a look at the Stronglifts 5x5 program.
Running is a great way to get fit, and seemingly prolongs your life. The only problem is that it can be painful and boring, and it's really hard to do it consistently. The only time I have managed to run a lot was after reading Chi Running by Danny Dreyer. The book introduces a mixture of biomechanics and breathing exercises that make running almost effortless. Athletes probably know all of it already, but for an amateur like me it was eye-opening.
The other trick I found useful was to make the goal to get changed into my running clothes and go outside, not to run. I gave myself permission not to run if I still didn't feel like it. This takes a lot of the pressure off, and often once you are changed and standing outside you'll go for a run anyway :)
I haven't used this myself, but it seems to be Chi Running in the water, and some people swear by it.
If you can replace a car with a bicycle, maybe cycling to work, you will not just boost your fitness, you could transform your finances. For me the key to cycling is to have the right gear, especially rain gear (I find hiking rain shells work best, as they are designed to breathe as well as keep you dry), and to find better routes. The straight line from my home to work is along a busy three-lane road, but by moving sideways a few hundred meters I can ride along a riverbank instead, and the lack of traffic lights makes up for the diversion.
So there you go: six things I have tried and one I would like to try.
How about you? Have you managed to create an exercise habit? Anything to add to my list?