So, You Want to Create an Activity Plan
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Just as we talk about a "nutrition plan," rather than a "diet" with its images of deprivation and denial, we talk about "physical activity" -- even "FUN physical activity!" -- rather than "exercise" with its images of straining, sweating and painful soreness.
Read this page already? Or pretty sure you already know WHAT to do, but lack the MOTIVATION to do it? Want to go directly to ways to make activity FUN? Then click here:
OK, Show Me The Fun!
You might want to increase your activity level for a lot of reasons, but of course probably the most popular reason in the U.S. is to increase your calorie burn to lose weight. Study after study (1-11)* has shown that people who successfully lose weight and keep it off long-term, do so primarily by making a commitment to an active lifestyle, emphasizing regular physical activity combined with a healthful nutrition plan. But don't necessarily think of it as exercise.
*Numbers in parentheses refer to journal articles in the Activity section of our References page.
"No pain, no gain" should really be "NO PAIN, NO INJURY, LOTS OF GAIN"!
In fact, more moderate activity seems to be more effective at maintaining weight loss than hard, vigorous activity (9,11), probably because this level of physical activity is more likely to be continued over a lifetime. So if you need to lose weight, look for activities you will ENJOY that allow you to be more active than you are currently.
There are other reasons to become more physically active, of course. Activity may be THE secret to aging youthfully. Maintaining muscle mass, strength, aerobic capacity and flexibility over the years will greatly increase your chances of vigorous, enjoyable and independent senior years.
BUT I HATE EXERCISE!!!
Yes, we know some of you may hate exercise right now. I used to be one of you. My experience supports studies that have reported that once you find the activities you enjoy and do them regularly and in such a way that you are not in pain afterward, you will ADORE exercise. People who participate in regular physical activity to help maintain weight loss report improved moods and more self-confidence (3). During rhythmic physical activity, substances are released called endorphins, which are opiate-like. They positively affect the pleasure centers in the brain. And you will miss them if you stop! But there's no reason to stop, as long as you avoid injury. So brace yourself for a trial period during which you will not be thrilled to be out there doing more stuff, but you WILL gradually grow to love your activity periods.
Ready to buy some clothing, gear, or equipment to get started with a new activity? Check out these Links to places we like, and let us know how you like them or if you find others!:
Half.com also has great prices on some sporting goods! Check it out here:
Please choose an aerobic activity, if at all possible, because this increases your circulation and calorie burn and heart health.
Want to try something different? This is a great whole body activity, and still gives a serious workout even when you keep it low impact: Exerstriders!!
Check it out at Exerstrider.com!
PLEASE NOTE (yes, we are repeating this AGAIN because it is that important):
It is very important that if you are under treatment for specific medical conditions or taking prescribed medications, you also consult with your physician, to ensure that our advice is appropriate for your specific situation.
In particular, if you have heart disease, you and your physician should consider an exercise stress test with EKG, performed by an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist, prior to beginning this or any other exercise or activity program.
If you absolutely refuse to do any form of sustained aerobic activity, then skip the next section, but please rejoin us below. Please be aware, however, that regular sustained activity lowers the risks of disease and chronic conditions, independent of whether or not any weight is lost (1,5,6,10).**
How to Begin an Aerobic Activity Program:
Begin by choosing an activity that you think you might enjoy, that will get your heart rate up a little, but that is not particularly strenuous and that will be convenient for you. Walking is ideal for many, because you can leave your house and start immediately, and all that is required is a good pair of shoes. Furthermore, we are physically built for walking as our preferred form of locomotion (other sports are at least a little more likely to cause injury, and LOTS more likely if they are high impact, such as running). But choose what you know will be enjoyable and safe for YOU. If you can only walk a half block (or whatever your limitations are), don't worry about that. That's where you start and it's a fine starting place. Try to start out doing something three times a week. Go for as many minutes as you comfortably can. Next week, increase your time by 5-10%. Any more than 10% has been shown to increase the incidence of injuries. This may seem a very slow improvement at first, but your distance increases will speed up as you become more fit (i.e., walk a mile, then 1.1 miles, etc; but if you already walk 10 miles, next week you add another whole mile). Don't feel like I'm encouraging you to coddle yourself too much; it's very important you avoid injury, because injuries can set you back for so long that you get very discouraged, and the effects of an old injury can linger.
Once you have a routine of exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week, you can choose to continue to gradually increase the amount of time you spend each of those days, OR gradually increase the number of days you engage in planned aerobic physical activity, OR gradually increase your speed intensity. AVOID increasing on more than one dimension at a time; this also will increase your risk of injury.
Ultimately, you want to engage in aerobic activity 5-7 days per week (preferably 7, but everybody has things that get in their way and nobody is perfect, so don't beat yourself up if you have some 6-day weeks and even some 5-day weeks; just keep striving (unless, of course, you can figure out a low-injury way to make beating yourself up an aerobic activity -- ha!)). You want to mix in different activities so you don't overuse one set of muscles over others, and so you don't get bored. Once aerobic activities become a habit, and looking for ways to make the rest of your day more active becomes a habit, then you'll probably want to add the occasional weekend game of tennis, hike in the mountains, etc., and suddenly you'll be reasonably fit! For optimally maintaining the weight loss that you achieve, most people find they spend about an hour a day in regular aerobic activities, so this is why we recommend this -- it works better than anything else!
**Consider a More Active Lifestyle All Day Every Day:
Is everyone back? Another way to increase your physical activity is with activities of daily living. You've probably heard some of these before: Take the stairs instead of the elevator (but only if it doesn't bother your knees or other joints!); park the car farther away instead of searching for a parking space near the mall doors. We suggest a new one: Obtain a rocker/recliner, if you don't have one, and sit in it and rock whenever watching TV, reading, etc. These types of increases in physical activity do not require any additional time commitment on your part; in fact, often any of the above shorten the time you spend, such as waiting for that elevator or circling to search for that parking space.
Another old saying that may be helpful is "Don't lie down when you can sit up, don't sit when you can stand, don't stand when you can walk, don't walk when you can run." You can often use everyday office activities, such as answering the phone, as a cue to get up and move around some. You may be able to set your computer to give you a reminder notice every couple hours to get up and move around. It is important not to sit all day, not only to burn extra calories, but also to avoid circulation problems.
In short, whenever you can, choose to be active. You should also know that watching TV burns fewer calories than just about anything else other than sleeping. Even playing video games or tapping your foot to the radio burns more calories. So consider limiting the time you spend watching TV. Again, if your TV is that important to you, consider acquiring a rocker/recliner. Try several before you buy, so that it's very comfortable to you, so you'll use it a lot.
IF YOU HAVE PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS, DON'T LET THEM STOP YOU!
We have links to Web sites that provide activity gear for people with arthritis, even for people in wheelchairs!
If you have arthritis or other mobility challenges, check out the site below:
[HOWEVER, PLEASE NOTE: Please check with your medical doctor if you want to try magnets for arthritis -- they are NOT PROVEN to work, and there MAY be dangerous side effects if you have other medical conditions!!]
If you need to use a wheelchair, check out this site below:
You should never be more than slightly sore from unaccustomed exercise. If you expect that soreness, you can be prepared -- a waiting bubblebath or willing massage partner is a nice bonus! Reward yourself for your regular activity sessions, and you will be more likely to continue, even to look forward to them until they become a habit. Another way to reward yourself is to plan an active vacation. Perhaps you've always wanted to bike through New England or scuba dive in Hawaii or climb a mountain in Colorado. Start now with short bike trips, regular swimming, walking hills or stairs, whatever else you need to do to get ready. Eventually, you'll be trained, fit and ready to go! Picturing yourself in an exotic location can strongly motivate you to keep your physical activity level up!
Are you ready to schedule that active vacation? Check out the adventure travel section on the vacation page at Travelocity:
More Activity Ideas:
You might also consider new hobbies, such as gardening or getting a dog (throwing a Frisbee, going for walks). Gardening is a great way to get a moderate level of activity, and rewards us with the great beauty of flowers, and the great taste of homegrown fruits and vegetables! If you decide to garden, please garden organically and pesticide-free. Check out the great links below or on our Links page to help you if you want advice, supplies and products for organic gardening, or you are of course welcome to e-mail us with any questions.
Planet Natural: Good Stuff for Your World
Click here for organic gardening information and supplies
Click here for information and more organic links
Or consider VOLUNTEERING! There are all kinds of walks to raise money for charity, kids need coaches, places like Habitat for Humanity put you to physical labor; even helping at a soup kitchen on a Saturday would make you stand for a few hours instead of couch potatoing all day. Contact your local Volunteer Center for more ideas, or see the links below or on our Links page:
Click here for Lexington Humane Society fund-raisers!
Click here for local American Lung Association fund-raisers!
MAKING EXERCISE FUN
**Suggestions From Us, Our Clients and Others**
Mix it up! On an aerobics day, I jog OR bike OR Rollerblade OR swim. On alternate days, I play tennis OR lift weights (w/ a cold drink & a dip in the hot tub after) OR chase the dogs around the park OR push the kids on the swings. Or whatever else comes to mind. The point is to be out there building muscle, not a particular activity.
Set goals. I schedule participation in a triathlon. Then I have a REASON for swimming & biking & running. It makes me want to keep track of what I'm doing, to build up gradually, and to get stronger and faster every day.
Listen to music! There are all kinds of tapes made for exercise, you can probably find some on the Web. Or just listen to tapes you already own and find some that are at the pace you want to set. With a CD burner, you can pick & choose songs at the correct pace, make yourself a new CD with just those songs for your exercise times.
I use my walks for planning my days and dreaming about the future. This is my private time, and I treasure it! I usually carry a little notebook so that if I think of something important to do later, I can make myself a reminder note. It really clears my head and makes a great start to the day!
Have exercise buddies. Don't just have one, cuz if the person you depend on cancels on you, you won't feel like exercising, either. But with two or more, usually somebody will show up. Your commitment to each other keeps you going through the tough times, and the conversations make the time fly!
Take the family with you. Walking or biking is a great time to connect back with your partner and/or the kids. You stay healthy together, and you stay in touch!
Get outside! Find a great park nearby, even if you have to drive there before you can start exercising. Scenery and fresh air help keep us motivated!
Buy a great piece of stationary exercise equipment! You can set it up to watch TV, add a book holder for reading, and then there you are -- you have a way to continue your favorite sedentary activities WHILE you get in shape! This is also a no-excuses way to exercise -- the weather outside doesn't matter. That's why it should be the best equipment you can afford -- you'll use it a lot!
Would you like to add YOUR suggestions for enjoying exercise? Just e-mail us, and let us know!
Any questions? Don't take a chance on injury! CONTACT US for the answers to your questions about setting up an activity plan!
This page was last updated on 04/23/03.