How do you start to exercise

You know you should start to exercise. (Why Exercise? – an article I wrote several years ago.) As we get older, everyone keeps telling us to keep moving. It’s good for our bones, our backs, our joints. But there’s so much out there – it’s information overload! Where do you start? How can you start something that you don’t know how to do?

Your friends say you should do Pilates. And yoga looks interesting. Your best friend does Tai Chi. Walking is good. Your grandkids tell you to do kick-boxing. The “experts” on TV tell you to do something else. 

And so you do nothing. I get it. You know your couch – it’s comfy and it’s safe. You don’t have to risk anything sitting on your couch.

I’ve told you to get ideas on YouTube. And there are loads of free workouts there. But how do you start to exercise?

Assess your abilities

A chair workout is great for those with limited mobility.

A good way to start is to first figure out what you CAN do. Can you walk for any distance? If you can – great. If you get out of breath after half a block, you may want to start with chair exercises. That’s a great way to start to exercise if you’ve never done it. Chair exercise programs can be just the place to start for people with limited mobility. You can begin to increase your strength and stamina sitting down.

If your mobility is good, and your physician has given you the OK to start an exercise program, then decide what you like.

Look to the future

Exercise is not something that you start and then finish. Once you’ve decided to start to exercise, you’re in it for life. So the exercise you choose to do should be something that you can see yourself doing in six months, a year, two years in the future. Keep in mind that you’ll be exercising a few times a week – the CDC recommends that adults do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, plus additional strength work 2 days a week.

If you already walk with friends but you’re looking for something a little more intense, perhaps try some dance workouts. If you like country music, look for a country music workout program – same for jazz or rock. Go for a structured workout with simple choreography to start. Instructors can increase the complexity as you progress. There are even ballet workouts for those of us who don’t want to perform, but love the movements.

If dance isn’t your thing, perhaps you’d like to try Pilates or Yoga. These will increase flexibility and strength. These programs can also provide cardio benefits.

Then what?

How do you start to exercise - make sure there's somewhere to progress as you improve.

When you’ve poked around YouTube and decided on the kind of exercise you’d like to start with, find an instructor you ”click” with. You understand their cuing of the moves, you like the music, they’re personable and you don’t mind the sound of their voice. Make sure that they have different levels of programs – when the beginner workout becomes too easy, you’ll want to move on. You always want to challenge yourself – that’s how you grow.

If you want to stick to your walking regimen – great! But on days that are not conducive to walking outside, know that there are exercise programs that simulate walking – indoors. 

But, actually, how do you start to exercise?

You’ve made the plunge – you’ve subscribed to your workout program – then what? 

Cue it up on your laptop or TV! Change into comfortable exercise gear (including well-fitting shoes made for the activity you’ve chosen). Make sure the furniture and dogs are out of the way. 

And push “play.”

Remember, any time you start a new activity, you may not be very good at it. The moves may seem awkward. That’s OK. Keep practicing. It will get easier. And be careful. If anything doesn’t feel good, stop. The last thing you want is to injure yourself. 

Also be aware that you may experience muscle soreness in 24 hours. That’s completely natural. But, you don’t want it to be debilitating, so don’t push yourself too hard your first couple of workouts.

And have fun.

It’s easy when it becomes a habit

How do you do it? That’s the question I get. Have the mindset to work out almost every day, eat right and not just go crazy? The answer: It’s easy when it becomes a habit.

There has been lots written about habits and tracking habits lately (like James Clear’s Atomic Habits) – but none from the perspective of a 65-year-old woman with gray hair who runs her dogs in Agility. So, for all you young-at-heart old ladies out there who may or may not run their dogs in Agility, this is for you. 

3 weeks to a habit

Generally speaking, it takes about 3 weeks of doing something for it to become a habit. Like flossing your teeth. Every night. Set an alarm on your phone for five minutes before the time you usually brush your teeth at night – when you look at your phone.

Or like using a new kind of calendar or daily planner. In order for a tool like this to work for you, you have to use it regularly. Enter your appointments, meetings and reminders when you make that appointment or think of something you need to be reminded of in the future. But then you have to remember to check your calendar regularly so that you don’t miss anything. So a cheat may be necessary – like a post-it note on your monitor to check your calendar. Or an alarm on your phone set to not-quite first thing in the morning. These “cheats” make it easier to remember what you want to remember to do – before these activities become real habits.

The exercise habit was not easy

Having exercise become a habit was not easy for me. I was a fat kid. I was bullied unmercifully through junior high school. Home economics was a requirement for girls my freshman year of high school. I was so proud of my little chocolate pudding tart that I took home on the bus so my mom and sister could enjoy it with me … Until a boy teased me, saying that a “fattie like me didn’t need that pie,” and tossed the tart onto my shirt. Chocolate and whipped cream was everywhere. That was the day I vowed to lose weight. 

jumping rope helped me lose weight and start an exercise habit.

So after school all that year, I jumped rope on our patio – a concrete slab behind the house. I lost the weight and have (mostly) kept it off. I guess I should try to remember who that kid was and thank him. (Probably not going to happen…) Jumping rope was the easiest way I could think of to exercise. Cheap, and burned a lot of calories. 

That was an easy habit to keep. I was motivated. 

But now it’s easy when it becomes a habit

A habit should not be a convenience. A habit is something you do without fail. No matter what. I wrote about this a while ago – Life happens. It’s not an excuse. A habit – and if you’re consciously making a habit, then it’s important – is something you make time for.

I make time several times a week for exercise. Exercise has become a habit. So, changing clothes, shifting the dogs to their comfy downstairs beds and pushing “play” is just what I do – many days without thinking. It’s easy when it becomes a habit.

And planning the next week’s meals and shopping lists is a habit now. It’s just something that needs to get done, so I don’t whine about it. I don’t look for other things to do instead of the task. I just do it.

Exercise with an injury?

I did something not very bright yesterday. I slammed my little toe into something very hard. It may or may not be broken, but it’s turning vivid colors. Even if it is broken, there’s not a whole lot that can be done for little toes, so I’m just going to leave it alone. But the question is, can I exercise with an injury?

And the answer is simple: if it hurts when I’m doing the exercise, then, no.

But – there are lots of things that I can do without using my foot or my toe.

No running for me!

Obviously, running is out, as is a step aerobics class. But, if I want to get my heart rate up, cycling is a great option. That kind of exercise with an injury would be fantastic. It burns a lot of calories, and as long as the pedal placement is good, a bike ride is a good choice.

Pilates using a resistance band is  a good way to exercise with an injury to my toe.

Pilates is also a good choice – it may not be as intense as an aerobic activity, but a good mat Pilates class with resistance bands (and I do have a great one) that is done with sneakers on, is great for toning and strengthening – especially the core.

I will probably not choose yoga today for my exercise. While there’s no impact, many standing poses in yoga bend the toes at acute angles. That even sounds like it hurts.

Exercise with an injury to my shoulder

In the past, I’ve also exercised with an injury to my shoulder (very painful dislocation). As long as I avoided exercises that aggravated the injury, it was great. And there’s a lot more to your body that you can exercise than the injured part! While my shoulder was healing, I did a lot of aerobics.

The first day or so after a traumatic injury I would certainly not exercise. Let the body rest and recover. And, here’s the most important advice: if it hurts, don’t do it.

Should you exercise with an injury?

Even if you can, another question is, should you exercise with an injury? For me, and this particular injury – yes. This injury is so minor and is such a small portion of me, that I would feel incredibly guilty using my poor, little blue toe as an excuse to not exercise. (Guilt is one of the ways that I motivate myself to work out.) So I will work out today. I will take precautions to make sure that I don’t make it worse, but I am certainly planning on working out. For other injuries – it depends. For major injuries – maybe not. But if it’s easy to exercise other portions of the body, certainly.

Be mindful and aware

Be mindful of how you’re feeling – the injured portion, as well as the rest of you. If you’re just using your injury as an excuse – get over it. A broken toe is no excuse for stuffing my face and lying around.

But always follow your doctor’s orders.

Get energized and exercise

We’re all suffering from sleep deprivation, and it would be really easy to just yawn and say, “I’ll work out tomorrow…” and take a nap. But we need to get energized and exercise! 

That reminds me of the saying, “Rise and shine!” and one of my favorite movie lines. In one scene in “The Great Race” (which has THE BEST pie fight scene ever!), Natalie Wood chirps to Jack Lemmon, playing the mustachio-twirling villain, “Rise and shine!” To which Jack Lemmon snarls, “You rise and you shine!”  

But in all seriousness, it is possible to fill yourself with energy and the get-up-and-go to, well, get up and go exercise. And not with calorie-laden caffeine drinks or sugar-filled candy.

So, how can you get energized and exercise if all you want to do is lie down and sleep?

Decide

Get energized and exercise. Breathe deeply and get more oxygen flowing.

Decide that you’re going to change your clothes into your workout gear, turn on your exercise program if you do a stream or DVD, or get stretched out for your run. Just decide. And go change.

Then stretch, shake your arms out, do a few marching steps, take a deep breath and exercise.

Not that easy

Sure, sure – it’s easy for me to say that. And yes – I have lived it. Ever raise a puppy? They have to go outside every couple of hours to maintain their housebreaking training. If it’s your responsibility to see to the puppy, you’re sleep-deprived. Or have a newborn baby? Same goes. Chronic sleep deprivation.

But, you have to take it as a given that certain things are worth going without sleep. Like a well-trained puppy. Or a happy baby. 

So you accept the fact that you’re not going to be sleeping much. And decide that certain things must be accomplished. Like exercise – because the benefits of exercise are many. Plus, just the act of exercise replenishes energy. It doesn’t make sense, does it – expend energy to replenish energy. 

Expend energy to replenish energy

But, think about it – when you exercise you’re breathing more deeply. You’re getting more oxygen and it’s making its way into your lungs, through your bloodstream and into your brain, providing more energy. Same thing with meditation – you’re focusing on your breathing and getting more oxygen.

Self-care is important

While you’re losing sleep, it’s important to take special care of yourself in other ways. Hydration is important every day, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water – good old H20 – and eating right. Be sure to eat lots of veggies and fruit, whole grains and lean protein. Grab a nap when you can, and you’re not supposed to be exercising! And you’ll be more inclined to get energized and exercise.

After a hard year we’re more resilient than ever

This flower makes me optimistic, as it opens every year and shows that we're more resilient than ever.

We’re starting to see more and more people around town, and in stores, without masks on. I have to assume that they’re fully vaccinated. And while it’s weird seeing people’s faces after more than a year, I like it! I’m glad that we’re coming out of the pandemic. Hopefully we’ve all learned something about ourselves and the world. But mostly I’m glad that we’re all optimistically embracing the future and are more resilient than ever. (http://fitness-over-50.com/2020/03/increase-optimism-grow-resilience/)

Even in the darkest months of the virus-spread, people were learning things, becoming educated and more able to cope with the changing world. It hasn’t been easy. 

Shortages

We’ve had to cope with shortages, and learn to work around them. Like soap. Toilet paper is an essential as it is – there’s nothing to substitute. You’ve either got it or you don’t. We had to scrounge for a package here, a package there. And we’ve had to learn to use a little less. That’s a hardship. But soap. Around the house we have a couple of foaming hand soap dispensers in the kitchen and bathrooms. And we use the large-scale refills rather than buying new dispensers every time. But near the beginning of the pandemic, there was not a single foaming hand soap refill to be had, there were no dispensers either. So I found out how to make foaming hand soap with regular hand soap refills. (It’s actually not hard – 1 part soap refill to 4 parts water.) It’s not something I ever thought about before, but absolutely crucial. Who knew that a soap shortage would make me more resilient than ever?

Work from home

And we’ve had to deal with more technology than we expected too. Many of us had our very first Zoom experience during the pandemic. It’s been interesting being on the other side of the screen from someone just learning. “Do I push this? Click this? How do I turn the microphone on? Can you see me now?” We all learned, and my sister and I have decided to keep doing Zoom calls as an easy way to stay in touch with friends and family who live too far away to meet with in person. 

New hobbies?

Many people have begun new hobbies. I know we’ve certainly been cooking more for ourselves. We’ve tried new recipes. I even made pretzels. They were really good, even if they were more like rolls. Which makes me want to make pretzel rolls for sandwiches but without the salt! 

Learn new things

And we’ve all learned new things. About ourselves, about each other and the world. There was some bad stuff there, yes, but mostly we learned that given a chance, most people are good and want the best for others.

Letting our vulnerabilities show

And we’ve learned that we’re all vulnerable. We’ve seen it time and again through the pandemic. Everyone at least knows someone who lost a loved one to the virus. Two friends lost a parent. And letting others see our own vulnerabilities can be a good thing. We’ve all been scared. Of our own mortality, of the future’s uncertainty. We’re all in the same boat, trying to come out on the other side. And talking to each other about our fears and uncertainties only draws us closer together, and makes us more resilient than ever.