Getting Active and Staying Active
October 1, 2022
(Edited by: Janet Klein MS, RDN, CDN, CDCES)
Exercise VS. Physical Activity
The term ‘exercise’ can be interpreted many different ways and mean different things to different people. However, there is a difference between daily physical activity and planned exercise. Physical activity is any movement that is carried out by the muscles that requires energy. An example would be walking to your mailbox to check the mail. Exercise is, by definition, planned, structured, repetitive and intentional movement that is intended to improve or maintain physical fitness. We know that exercise is a key part of good health, as well as a way to lose weight. Small steps can help you stay active every day, whether it is at home or at work.
Benefits of Exercise
- Improves quality and quantity of sleep
- Improves mood
- Slows aging
- Lowers risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many types of cancer
- Improves immune system function
- Improves memory and lowers risk of dementia
- Increases energy levels and stamina
- Helps lower blood sugar and blood pressure
- Relieves stress
- Strengthens your heart, muscles, and bones
- Improves circulation and joint flexibility
- Prevents injuries and falls
Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can! There are many ways to start or increase planned exercise that do not cost a dime! Start out easy and gradually increase length of time or difficulty. Warm up, cool down, and stretch to prevent injuries and reduce muscle soreness. The best kind of exercise you can do involves a combination of aerobic (cardio) and strength training (weight bearing exercises). This will improve your cardiovascular health as well as increase muscle mass. If you are feeling lost on where to begin, there are many free exercise programs on YouTube, as well as many fitness apps with educational videos on using proper form.
It is important to set measurable goals for yourself each week that are both realistic and challenging to achieve. The first helps you achieve the goal and the second helps motivate you to continue to set more goals each week. Cardio helps burn fat, while strength training increases your lean muscle mass which helps to speed up your metabolism.
Start to Incorporate Strength Training
If you are just beginning to start weight bearing exercises, it can be difficult to know what weight is appropriate for you. If you do not have a good baseline of muscle strength, starting out with resistance bands or your own body weight can be plenty, and over time you may progress to using dumbbells. A good way to know if the weight you are using is appropriate is by the 8th rep it should start to feel heavy and challenging, and by the 10th rep you want to put the weights down and rest. If you feel you can keep going and do 15 or 20 reps – your muscles are not being challenged enough and you can likely increase the weight. At the same time, you don’t want to lift too heavy either, which can lead to injury. Over time you should begin to see a progression with the weights you are using. If you keep using the same weights forever, you will not increase your strength! With any exercise, maintaining proper form is extremely important. Keeping a log of your strength training exercises and weights is another great way to measure progress over time, also known as a non-scale victory!
How Much Exercise is Recommended?
At least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity AND at least 2 days/week of muscle strengthening activity is the recommendation. That is only about 20 minutes per day!
OR get the same benefits in half the time if you step it up to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (75 minutes/week)
How can you tell if it’s moderate or vigorous exercise?
- Moderate = If you’re breathing faster/harder than usual but can still maintain a conversation easily
- Vigorous = if you can only say a few words or none at all before you have to take a breath
Ways to Increase Physical Activity at Home
- Gardening and yardwork can burn calories (i.e. rake leaves instead of buying a leaf blower – your neighbors will also appreciate the decrease in noise, and you’ll save money on gas!)
- Go for a walk after dinner instead of watching TV
- Get a dog and take it for walks instead of just letting it out in your yard – it’s a win-win for you and the dog
- Wash your car instead of going through the car wash
- Have a family or solo dance party
- Play tag, frisbee, soccer, basketball, hide and seek, etc. with your kids instead of screen time
- Get up during commercial breaks and use resistance bands/weights or do body weight exercises (jumping jacks/wall sits for example)
- Instead of hiring someone, do DIY home improvement work like sanding and painting yourself
- Walk to the mailbox instead of driving up to it
Ways to Increase Physical Activity at Work
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Park further away, take the long way to/from the cafeteria or meetings
- Get off the train/bus one or two stops early so that you can walk the rest of the way
- Try incorporating desk exercises if your job is sedentary – there are lots of great ideas online
- Walk on lunch breaks, 5-10 minutes is better than 0 minutes!
- Get a standing desk – every little bit helps!
- Turn a conference call into a walking meeting by using headphones and getting some steps in instead of sitting for the meeting
Ways to Exercise with Mobility Limitations
- Low impact activities like water aerobics, gentle yoga, or seated exercise are best for those with mobility limitations
- Meet with a personal trainer who knows how to work with mobility limitations that can show you modifications to standard exercises to prevent injury and strengthen the areas that may help improve mobility
- Focus on improving range of motion and flexibility first, then work on increasing strength
- If you have arthritis, physical activity actually HELPS reduce joint stiffness and pain. If you keep avoiding exercise, you will lose muscle mass, get weaker and stiffer, making joint pain worse!
- Many people that have back pain do not have strong leg or glute muscles which can make back pain even worse. If this is an issue for you, work with a trainer to determine which exercises can help strengthen those muscles to take the burden/strain off your back