When it comes to exercise, it seems like most people fall into one of two categories: the well-intentioned exercisers and the successful exercisers. The former group always has the best intentions, and may start in with a workout regimen for a week or two, only to fizzle out and spend his/her time in other ways, always feeling a little guilty over skipped exercise sessions. The latter comprise the group of people out there whom are actually successful exercisers.
Whichever of these two groups you fall under, Winter can be a tough time of year. On those cold, snowy mornings, it is so much easier to stay huddled up in your house with a cup of coffee or three! Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t do that: (This list is borrowed from http://www.familydoctor.org & expanded upon by personal experience.)
• Exercise reduces your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, and obesity. All of these health problems are going to impede your quality of life in one way or another in the long haul. Not to mention, many of these maladies can result in premature death.
• Exercise keeps your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Cleaning house? Moving furniture? Playing with the kiddos? Mowing the lawn? All of these activities require a certain amount of physical strain. If you are mostly a sitter at work and in your spare time, you may struggle to move comfortably when you actually want or need to.
• Exercise contributes to mental well-being. Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins give you a temporary mood boost that can carry you through days until your next workout. Regular exercisers are better able to cope with both physical AND emotional stress than non-exercisers because of these mood-lifting benefits. Suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder? (SAD is when you suffer from depression that is worse seasonally.) Exercise has been shown to improve SAD symptoms as well.
• Exercise improves your sleep quality. You may not always be able to get more sleep, but better-quality sleep is always a plus!
• Exercise can increase metabolism. (I add CAN as a qualifier here. If you are interested in fat loss, be sure you are doing the right type of exercise to facilitate those results. See my post “Are you Exercising Yourself Fat?” for more info on this.)
• Exercise sets a good example for kids. The more often your children see you being active and enjoying it, the more likely they are to develop those same habits. I treat my run time as my sacred time. My son knows that I love it, and as a result, sees going for a walk or getting out and moving as a privilege, not a chore.
• Exercise can form some wonderful social bonds. Some of my very best friends have been made through exercise. Even if you typically fly solo, try to find a workout buddy for at least one session a week. There is just something about airing out your problems while lunging until your legs are noodles that forms a pretty strong bond. Plus, the accountability of a workout buddy never hurts either!
Chances are, the majority of these exercise benefits are not news to you. In fact, many of them you have probably heard before from your doctor, spouse, television, or a fitness magazine. I wanted to touch on them because they are SO important. But I am guessing that if you’re reading this blog post, you are really interested on how to find a Winter-time routine that is actually workable for you. You’re in luck! I have six simple pointers to share with you on how to do just that.
1. Plan, plan, plan! I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Sit down with your schedule, at least a week at a time. I do mine by the month. Carve out exactly what times you will exercise, write them on a calendar, and hang it on your refrigerator. This is especially important for beginning exercisers, who do not already have a workable routine, and for those who have kids who need care. Shoot for at least three times per week of some kind of physical activity. Recruit help from your spouse, a family member, or a friend. Maybe you can swap days with another mom or dad in your neighborhood? Either way, set that time aside and then honor it!
2. Do what you love. Take all of those notions floating around your inside your head of what you should be doing and throw them out the window! What do YOU want to do? This can include any combination of yoga, pilates, running, strength training, walking, fitness classes, home DVDs, but it can also include outdoor recreational activities like skiing, hiking, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or even vigorous play with your kids. The most important thing here is that you actually like what you are doing so that you will stick with it.
3. Set a goal! This can be whatever you like. Maybe your goal is to work out three times per week without fail. Maybe there is a 5k or a half marathon you really want to train for. Maybe you have a goal to tone up, to lose a pant size, or to normalize your blood pressure. Whatever your goal is, write it down. It is the thing that will get you out the door on those days that you would rather stay home.
4. If your plan gets interrupted, go with the flow. This is the item that I struggle with the most. It is all too easy for a skipped workout to snowball into two skipped workouts, then three, then four, and then, all of a sudden, you’re waiting until after the first of the year when the holidays are over to start back up again. Just remember:
5. Something is better than nothing. So you originally had two hours set aside to hit the gym, but now your kiddo is barfing and you’re trapped at home. Don’t focus on what you can’t do; focus on what you can do! Maybe it is a good day for push-ups and abs! Every hour for ten hours do ten push-ups and ten sit-ups. You might not have logged the time you wanted, but 100 sit ups and 100 push-ups beats nothing, right?
6. Take a rest day when you need it. Adequate rest will ensure you don’t do too much too soon, resulting in burnout or injury. You should have a bare minimum of one rest day per week built in to your exercise plan. I usually have at least two and sometimes three. So it can be frustrating when I start to come down with a cold on a day I am supposed to run 6 miles. Experience has taught me, however, that taking one rest day when I need to gets me back into my routine sooner. Most the time some gentle yoga or a short walk can speed up the healing process. (Aside: How do you know if you need a rest day? The method I use is tracking resting heart rate. My normal resting heart rate is about 46 beats per minute. As little as a 5% increase in resting heart rate can signify that your body is struggling to fight off a bug. For me, that means that if my resting heart rate is 55 BPM or higher, my body is definitely asking for a break. If you’re interested in using this method, try taking your heart rate first thing in the morning—before you get out of bed—for seven days. Average that, and you will have a pretty good idea of your resting heart rate. Keep in mind, as your fitness improves, this number may go down.)
Implement these six tips this Winter, and you will be sure to belong to the group of successful exercisers!
Yours in Health,