Our bodies were designed to be in motion. Trouble is, few of Americans are moving nearly enough and this lack of exercise is putting millions at risk for chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. To combat the health-robbing effects of sedentary living, it’s essential that we all commit to putting our bodies through their paces – to make the conscious choice to use it, not lose it.
OK, so perhaps you haven’t worked out since the Clinton administration, your stationary bike’s where you hang the dry cleaning and you’re using your hand weights as doorstops. Well then, it’s time to turn it around and get back into the workout groove – just be sure to get the go-ahead from your doc first, then consider the following to help re-ignite your fitness fire:
Exercise – So All Your Systems Will Work Better
Though the benefits of exercise are almost too numerous to list, it doesn’t take long for the effects to start kicking in once you begin working out or return to a routine after a hiatus. In case you’ve forgotten, exercise also delivers a ton of fantastic effects, including better sleep (drug-free!); improved circulation; boosted immunity; increased energy and mental clarity; better blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol numbers; enhanced metabolic function, digestion and elimination, to name a few.
Nothing Like a Natural High, Eh?
Another upside-effect to sticking to an exercise routine: feeling good all over. Your workout increases muscle mass as it pumps your brain full of blues-busting chemicals like serotonin and endorphins– so you’ll feel happier and more relaxed for hours after, without pharmaceutical assistance.
Forgive – And Then, Get Over Yourself
So maybe it’s been months – or even years – since you last darkened the doorway at the gym or sprinted around the local high school track. In the meantime, you’ve probably spent a lot of time beating yourself up over your extended fitness hiatus. Well, starting now, that’s over. Forgive yourself for slacking off, accept that you’re going to need to get serious (again) and get back on the workout horse.
Fall In Love With Yourself
As you indulge in a regular exercise routine, you’ll likely experience a boost of confidence and a sense of accomplishment after your sessions. Best of all, you’ll be giving yourself the gift of one less thing to feel bad about. It’s like you’re creating your very own non-vicious circle of happiness! You’ll look better, feel better, treat yourself better, eat better – the positive possibilities are limitless. Or if you prefer, you can refuse to move, feel bad about yourself, treat yourself like crap, spiral into depression and disease. It’s your call, my friend.
Your Muscles Will Do You Some Favors
Guess what? Getting back into shape actually gets easier each time you try. You can thank muscle memory for that. Just as the name suggests, your muscles remember the days when you were fit/fitter and their “memories” make it easier to get you back in fighting form. One of the most obvious examples of muscle memory in action is the act of riding a bike. Even if you haven’t been on two wheels in decades, as soon as you start pedaling, the ability to do it returns almost instantly because of the neural pathways that formed when you first learned. Granted, you’ll still have to do the work to get your speed and endurance back, but you’ll be able to do it quite a bit faster than someone who’s starting from zero.
Play Some Mind Games
It’s not always easy to get started as a newbie, or to return to an exercise program after a long hiatus. There will be days when you’re just not feeling it – and that’s perfectly normal, but it’s no excuse to bail out. Instead, you need to trick yourself. Here’s how: tell yourself you’ll workout for just 15 minutes. At the 15-minute mark, you can either quit or keep going. If you quit after 15 minutes, then at least you’ve hit today’s goal, modest as it may be. However, if you decide to keep going, well then, you’ll have one more reason to be proud of yourself – and either way, you win.
Excuse-proof Your Workout
One of my patients taught me this trick to make getting to the gym a lot more likely – he keeps a fully-stocked gym bag at the office, in his car and at home, so he can’t use the old “I forgot my running shoes” or “I’m out of clean socks” excuse. And by fully-stocked, we mean each bag gets its own complete set of workout necessities, from sneakers and fresh socks to a few changes of workout clothes and toiletries.
You May Need Some Back-up
When you start a workout program or re-start one, you’ll have a better shot at success if you shrink the opportunity to fail. One way to do it this to have someone counting on you, be it a personal trainer who’ll charge you whether you show up or not, or a few buddies who will read you the riot act if you skip out. Simple accountability (and a repercussion or two) will help boost your follow-through.
Calling Dr. Pavlov
Making changes, and developing new habits, isn’t easy. For most people, it takes anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks of consistent effort to lock in an exercise “habit,” so remember to keep motivating yourself with real, tangible rewards. Let’s say your goal is to work out 12 times a month. Your reward: a 1-hour sports massage. If you don’t make the goal, then no reward till you compete all the workouts you committed to. Another way to help you stay on track: buy packages of training sessions or lessons. As they’re usually non-refundable, there’s built-in motivation not to let them go to waste.
Let the Music Move You
Keep your fitness groove going stronger, longer by loading up your ITunes library with some smokin’ hot tunes. Multiple studies have shown that people who work out to music go harder and longer than those who don’t – so consider music a workout essential. Not only will a great playlist enable you to get lost in the beat while you exercise, but more importantly, you’ll be able to increase your endurance by 10 -15% according to researchers at Brunel University. To get the best boost, you’ll need to make sure your tunes hit the 120 -140 beats per minute mark, so ditch the audio books, fire up the Daft Punk and get moving.
Warning: Looking and Feeling Great Can Be Habit-forming
Exercise is a funny thing. The more you do it, the more the body will crave it and the more benefits you’ll enjoy – so indulge in this life-enhancing habit as often as you can.