No limit to the benefits of exercise

The benefits of exercise are many.
Lifting those weights keeps my bones and muscles strong.

It’s no secret that I exercise multiple times a week. I exercise mostly so that I can do the things I really want to do. Like walk around a store (or a theme park) and run Agility with my dog. But there is no limit to the benefits of exercise in other areas of my life. Like mental clarity. More benefits are sleeping better, and keeping my bones and muscles strong. 

Benefits of exercise to the heart

And the benefits to the heart from exercise have been proven to be limitless. A recent study from the University of Oxford with 90,000 participants showed that the risk of cardiovascular disease was lower in those who were the most active. Five years after the study participants were still benefiting from exercise. 

Daily exercise is crucial for cardiovascular health, blood pressure control, weight loss and overall physical fitness. The researchers also determined that those who exercised had the healthiest BMI (body mass index), were least likely to smoke, and had lower alcohol intake. That’s not surprising. What was surprising, though, was that there was no limit to the cardiovascular benefit the participants received from exercising. “Results showed both moderate and vigorous physical activity drove down instances of cardiovascular disease.”  So – keep exercising and your heart keeps getting the benefits.

Not easy to maintain the level of exercise

It’s not easy to maintain a moderate or vigorous level of exercise a few times a week, though. Just knowing the benefits of exercise is not enough to make you put on your sneakers. Just like with New Year’s resolutions: many people are fired up at the start of the year to “get fit,” and their motivation may last for a few weeks, but they lose interest after a while. They may know the benefits of working out – that’s why they start an exercise in the first place, but that’s not enough to keep them going.

Know your “why”So, as I’ve said before – know your motivator. There must be something that compels you to get on the stationary bike, or climb those stairs, or get on the mat a few times a week besides the benefits to your heart. This is especially important for healthy aging. Know what motivates you, so that you can keep exercising and reap those benefits.

Figure this out before you work out

So you’ve been told you should exercise. It’s not just me who’s telling you that… It’s the Mayo Clinic – did you know that you’ll sleep better if you exercise? And Harvard Medical School – did you know that exercise can help prevent cancer? And yet so many people tend to avoid exercise. It’s easy to not exercise if, for example, your parents were not especially active. And it’s easy to keep on watching TV or reading when a show or book is engrossing. So, what will get you out of the chair? Before you work out, you have to figure out your motivator.

Figure out your motivator

In order to keep on exercising – because exercise is not a “one and done” thing – you have to have a really good reason to keep coming back to it. You’re not going to keep on exercising several days a week if you hadn’t been exercising before, unless you have a particularly strong reason to do it. Because, let’s face it, exercise is not the most fun thing on the planet.

I hate to exercise

A great workout eliminates stress.
I do not like getting sweaty… And yet…

I’ve said it before, I do not like to exercise. Not one little bit. And yet, I’m on my exercise mat or on the treadmill 4 or 5 days every single week. Even after all the years that I’ve been exercising, I despise it. The best part of exercising to me is when I’m done for the day. I do not like getting sweaty and out of breath. And the promise of fighting off cancer or getting better sleep are not good enough reasons to work out. So why do I do it?

My 3 big reasons

  1. I get to eat what I like
  2. I’ll be in shape to run my dog in agility
  3. I’ll be more able to face life’s challenges. I’m a big scaredy-cat. I figure if I have the discipline to do what I don’t like to do, I’ll be better able to face anything life throws at me.

What will make you lace up those sneakers day after day?

Those are my reasons. Everyone does different things for different reasons. The prospect of 7 or 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep might very well be your big motivator.

Or playing with the grandkids in the backyard. Or even having a backyard with a beautiful garden is your reason. Last week’s article was about how gardening can relieve stress. But in order to have a garden you have to do the work. Are you able to dig your garden, to kneel down and get those weeds? Perhaps you’ve figured out your motivator and that garden is it.

The key to getting the benefits of exercise is consistency. You have to keep on exercising to get anything out of it. So, you have to think about what will make you lace up your sneakers and get on that exercise mat. You have to figure out your motivator that will keep you working out six months from now, a year from now, for your best life.

Use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety

I spent much of Wednesday driving to and from various errands. Driving itself is not fun these days, what with the price of gas and having more people on the streets with the better weather. I had the NewsRadio station on in between stops because there wasn’t enough time to become engrossed in a podcast or audiobook. And the news is not good. Anywhere. Rising prices, escalating war, politicians increasing the nasty factor. My anxiety certainly rose yesterday afternoon with all of that. When you’re feeling more anxious, how do you deal with it? My answer: use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety.

Calming techniques and beyond

I’ve written about various calming techniques for stress and anxiety, and exercise has always been one method. But, let’s go a little deeper into what exactly happens when you use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety.

Increasing my endorphins with aerobic exercise. I use my fitness routine to conquer anxiety.

Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, increases your endorphins. I am always in a better mood after my workout, and my family thanks me for that! (These days, with my anxiety soaring, if I don’t exercise I can be particularly moody and snappish.) You don’t have to run to get that “runner’s high.” 

Exercise as a stress-reliever

Experts at the Mayo Clinic also promote exercise as a stress-reliever: “Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, improve your mood, help you relax, and lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety.” Exercise can not only ease your current stress but give you a feeling of command over your body and your life. Note that It’s not a “one-and-done” thing for exercise. “Regular exercise” is key. Those experts at the Mayo agree that any form of movement will do you good – by increasing your fitness level while decreasing your stress level. But they also agree that scheduling your workouts help. I wrote about the importance of making “dates” with yourself a while ago.

Simulating “fight or flight”

When you feel stress, you may feel that “fight or flight” syndrome occurring in your own body. Exercise simulates that effect. If you’re walking or running, that’s the “flight” part. If you’re doing strength training, that simulates the “fight” part by putting your muscles under tension.

Walking meditation

Many people walk for their exercise and that’s great. Walking alone is a good form of physical exercise, but combining walking with meditation can really lower your stress. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you close your eyes and chant while you’re walking. Just be mindful of what’s happening with your body as well as being aware of your surroundings. “Practicing walking meditation regularly can help one be more connected to their body and surroundings while simultaneously making them happier and healthier,” said Dr. Jennifer Dragonette, Executive Director at Newport Institute.

You can be less stressed and anxious, if you use your fitness routine to conquer your anxiety.

Modify anything to reach your goals

You know I’m a fan of goal-setting. And I’m also a fan of setting big goals. So, chances are those goals I set will not be achievable with the equipment I have right now. If I want to do a full push-up but just don’t have the arm strength, I’ll work at it until I can do it. I’ll start on my knees or on my toes and leaning on a low table. The key is to modify anything to reach your goals.

A modification for anything

If I want to do a side plank with leg left, I'll modify it to start on a knee.
Modifying the Side Plank star means beginning on a knee.

As I’ve said before, there’s a modification for everything. That modification may not be immediately apparent, but it’s there. If you want to come along with me and try that full push-up, starting out leaning on a low table may help you to increase your arm strength more than starting on your knees. Once you’re successful with push-ups using that coffee table, you can “graduate” to an ottoman. And then to a stool – going lower and lower. Eventually you’ll be ready to do a full push-up on the floor. And if I want to do a Side Plank Star but don’t have the arm strength now, I’ll start on a knee.

If you’ve set your goal for 10 push-ups, don’t give up after 2. If you’ve reached the floor but your arms give out after 2, don’t give up. Get that stool and finish your set. You’re still building your arm strength on the stool. By the way – even one push-up on the floor is amazing. Time to celebrate! Rewards are an essential part of goal-setting. Make sure that your reward is fitting – save the big reward for doing 10. Now, perhaps, a 15-minute break is appropo. 

After doing the modified exercise, I've built up enough arm strength to do a full Side Plank Star.
After doing the modified exercise, I’ve built up enough arm strength for the full Side Plank Star.

For non-exercise goals

The same step-by-step system works for other, non-exercise, goals. If you want to lose weight – say, 30 pounds, you’re not going to lose all 30 at once. And even thinking about losing 30 pounds is a daunting prospect. But 5 pounds is achievable.

Modify your goal

So, the key to reaching that lofty goal of 30 pounds is to break it up. Modify your big goal to set intermediate goals. And reward yourself every step of the way!

Strength training for your health

You’ve decided to start a fitness program! Yay! You know that physical activity is vital for healthy aging – experts at the Centers for Disease Control recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week (less if you’re doing high intensity and more for lower intensity activity). You may have decided on walking as a first step in your fitness program. But the experts also recommend 2 days a week of strength training. But what, exactly, does strength training for your health entail?

No fancy equipment needed

I’ve said before that as we get older, we lose stuff. Our eyesight, our hearing, our hair, our balance, and, unfortunately, muscle mass and bone density. Strength training won’t do anything for our eyesight or our hearing, but it can help with our muscles and our bones.

Before you say, but I don’t belong to a gym and I’m not buying weights, know that you don’t need fancy equipment to do strength training for your health. Your body weight is a built-in exercise equipment miracle. You can work practically any muscle group with your own body weight. 

Body-weight exercises

Push-ups are great to work just about any part of your body. Modifications are good too.
Push-ups (with or without shoes) are great for just about every part of your body.

Holding the plank position works your arms, your legs, and your entire core. Even if you modify the position so that you’re on your knees, you’re still getting lots of benefits. And if you move into a push-up, you’re really accelerating those benefits. Again, a push-up from your knees is beneficial. Or, try supporting yourself with your hands on a sturdy coffee table. Altering your starting position will work different muscles. There’s always a modification if you can’t do the full position like plank, or the more advanced plank balance.

Sit ups or crunches will really work your core. If you don’t like the traditional crunch, there are plenty of other core exercises that don’t use equipment.

If you want to invest just a little

But if you want to invest a little, a resistance band is a great way to start. If you get one that looks like a big rubber band, try putting it around your shins and doing side-steps, making sure that you’re stretching your band as you step. Or around your thighs while you’re lying on your side and doing the clam-shell exercise. For your arms, hold the band and stretch your arms out laterally to work your shoulders. Try sitting and placing the band under your foot, holding the other end. Place your elbow on your thigh and raise your hand – you’re working your biceps!

No matter how you choose to start, working on strength training for your health will help you live a richer and more active life. Be conscious of your form while you’re performing the exercises. Make sure to keep your core tight at all times to keep your back healthy.

Strength training for your health is good at any age

“Regardless of your age, weightlifting allows the muscles to grow and become stronger,” said Michael Reinke, an Advocate Aurora Health athletic trainer. “Weightlifting also improves bone density and improves heart health, all while decreasing the risk of injury during activity.” Body weight strength training is the easiest way to start. Try strength training for your health! It’s easy and beneficial.

Why start a fitness program?

Last week I was completely winded after a practice agility run with my dog. I was huffing and puffing and thought to myself, “If I want to do more of this (which I do), then I’ve got to figure out a way to build my endurance and stamina.”

Do you huff and puff on the stairs?

Now, you may not want to run agility with your dog. But you may want to get fit for any number of other reasons. Do you have to pause on the stairs? Or do you look for a parking spot closer to a store’s entrance? You may wish you were in better shape, but thought it was impossible to succeed because your metabolism just isn’t what it used to be. So to start a fitness program would be futile.

The truth about your metabolism, even after “a certain age”

According to Dr. Nick Pryomski of the Advocate Aurora group, that’s nonsense. Your metabolism is the same as it always was. But you may find it more difficult to find the motivation to get out of your chair and do something about it. Dr. Pryomski says, “Metabolism doesn’t necessarily slow as you age. It only does if you are less active.” Likewise, “slender people don’t necessarily have a higher metabolism than larger people.” That’s good news for most of us.

So, it is scientifically possible to get fit at any age. But you may be completely overwhelmed by the prospect of losing weight or starting an exercise program. 

Make your reason a no-brainer

Why start a fitness program? I started a running program for my dog.
Why start a fitness program? I started for my dog…

The secret? Be really honest with yourself. Know why you want to get in shape. If your reason is just to look good or age gracefully, that’s probably not good enough. But, if you want to be able to play with the grandkids as much as they want to? If you want to go for walks in the park (when the weather improves), or travel and be able to see the sights you’ve always wanted to see, then you’ve got a pretty good reason to start a new healthy aging program. 

I certainly would not be pushing myself on the treadmill, up to 6 miles per hour so far, so that I have a prayer of directing my off-leash dog on an agility course, if I didn’t want to succeed in the sport. 

Start small

The way to start your new program is small. Make small changes to your routine. Like walking for 2 minutes after breakfast. Get used to those little changes first before you make bigger changes. Then you can start to determine the bigger changes you need to make. 

If you want to start a new eating plan with the goal of losing weight, same thing: start making small changes. Perhaps cut down on your starch and dessert portions. Don’t eliminate them – you know that I’m a believer in not depriving yourself! – just make those portions smaller for now.

Small goals lead to big results

No matter if you’re starting an exercise or an eating program, set goals for yourself. (See “Set goals – big and little.”) First set short-term goals – something for the next two weeks or a month, perhaps. Those goals should be doable but challenging. For example, if you start with walking 2 minutes a day, work up to a half hour in the next 2 weeks. Or lose 4 pounds in the next 4. And when you reach those goals, be sure to reward yourself with something that’s meaningful to you. Download that book you’ve wanted to read.

If you need an accountability partner to keep you “honest,” enlist a friend. I started out by scheduling my workouts on my calendar – my “date” with myself. You may find a step tracker a useful tool for motivation.

The key is to never give up. If your reason to get healthy is important enough, you’ll find the motivation and the tools to help you.

Get excited about exercise

Last week was about food. I’m always excited to try new cuisines. No matter the recipe it’s usually possible to make it healthy – cut out excess fats and sugars, substitute another vegetable for a starch. This week is about exercise. It’s time to get excited about exercise!

I’m not a fan of exercise

I get excited about exercise because I can exercise.
I get excited about exercise because I can exercise.

If you’ve read any of my posts about exercise, you know I’m not a fan. I exercise for the benefits I derive from it, like reducing bad moods and depression. (More reasons to exercise!) It also improves memory and cognition, and increases endurance. Those are definitely reasons to get excited about exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control says that physical activity is essential for healthy aging – but how much exercise is recommended? If you’re up to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, then 75 minutes a week or more should do it or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity. A couple of days of strength work should always be added too – for our muscles and bones!

But I am able to do it

The fact that I’m able to actually move my body to exercise vigorously is a reason to celebrate. I’m not a professional fitness trainer. I was never in the fitness field, in any capacity other than a cheerleader or motivator. My background is in accounting. But, I’ve exercised regularly for years and as a result am able to do the activities I want to do. And that is a reason to get excited about exercise.

So get excited about exercise!

I want everyone out there to be able to take a walk with the dog or the grandkids when they want to (weather permitting, of course). To walk around the mall. When you can’t find a parking spot close to a building, walking from a remote corner should not prevent you from carrying out your errand. Yes, the knees might creak, and it may take a few seconds to unkink the back, but once you do, there should be no stopping you.

And that’s a reason to get excited about exercise.

Get excited about fitness

Get excited about fitness. Try new things.
Get excited about fitness!

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “She’s nuts. Excited about fitness? That’s the most boring thing ever.”

But you should be excited about fitness. You’re doing something for you when you actively work to improve your fitness. While eating right can be less than exciting, it can be the greatest opportunity to explore the world and try new things. 

Get out of your eating rut

We get in a rut with our eating. Same old proteins, veggies and flavorings. But thinking about eating healthier can be an introduction to new herbs and spices that we have never tried before. I don’t really know a lot about Indian (from India) food – or Native American food for that matter. It’s easy to do a search for nutritious ethnic foods, and experiment in the kitchen. Print out a couple of recipes you’d like to try and make your shopping list from those recipes. 

The produce store I go to frequently has many vegetables that I’ve never tried and don’t know how to prepare. Things with exotic names, from exotic countries. The next time I go there I’ll take a picture of some of these and explore preparation tips and recipes for them.

Class trip to Spain not for the food

I took a class trip to Spain when I was in high school (a very long time ago). The meals were definitely Americanized for us – high school kids were not adventurous eaters. Some of my classmates even searched out McDonalds for some meals. Others refused to eat anything but the bread served at mealtime. (It was good bread, but not that good!)

Explore new cuisines

I will do more research on Spanish dishes but in the meantime I found this recipe for Pisto (Spanish version of Ratatouille) which I might make sometime soon! If you ever took a trip and perhaps were not as courageous as you might have been with your meals, now might be a great time to take a look back and discover some new taste sensations.

Maintaining your motivation when you embark on a healthy eating program can be tough. I talked about this before when I gave 5 tips for sticking to your plan. But exploring new cuisines is another way to make it easy to stick to your plan.

Even if you’ve decided to eat healthier, be bold. Search out new tastes and flavors. Travel the world from your kitchen. Get excited about fitness – at least the eating part for now.

Timing doesn’t matter when it comes to exercise

Timing doesn't matter when it comes to exercise - the important thing is that you do it.
Timing doesn’t matter when it comes to exercise – I do it in the afternoon!

Do you think that you have to work out in the morning? Or afternoon? Here’s a hint: the timing doesn’t matter. The important thing is to work out when you can!

I work out in the afternoon – it works for me. Most days I exercise at pretty much the same time. I don’t have to think about it – exercise has become a habit for me.

Trainers get real

And the trainers agree.

 Morgan Rees, an ACE-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and health coach in Los Angeles says, “Some people work out in the morning because their schedule only allows that time to work out. Others work out in the morning because they genuinely love being active in the morning. I have always enjoyed working out in the evening because I have the most energy in the afternoon and early evening.”

And Sarah Pelc Graca, an NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Strong With Sarah, agreed that there is no ideal time for working out. “The number of calories burned from the exact same workout will remain the same whether you work out at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m.,” Pelc Graca said.

Morning people have one advantage

But some research has shown that if you like to work out in the morning you may have made exercise part of your regular routine and developed the habit of working out. In addition, if you exercise early in the day, your body will continue to burn active calories during the day, and you’ll be fueling your body as well to build muscles. 

On the other hand, working out in the evening gives your body recovery time overnight, and can also give your muscles the opportunity to build. It can even improve your sleep, since exercise can reduce the stress that you’ve built up during the day.

The bottom line

So, it really doesn’t matter when you exercise. The important thing is that you do it.

If exercise hasn’t yet become a habit for you, make a date with yourself – schedule your workout in your calendar. Since long-term consistency is key, try working out in the morning some days and in the afternoon or evening on others. See what works best for you. When in your schedule are you most likely to keep your date? That’s what you should stick with. Of course, everyone has days that mornings don’t work or afternoons are booked – I know I do. I try to think ahead and figure out alternatives. Because if you’re skipping a workout with only a time excuse – the only one you’re cheating is yourself.

Take a step back and things will get done

Feeling blah but overwhelmed?

Exercise helps me release stress.
If I’m going to tackle my to-do list, I need a workout.

Are you you feeling blah but still have a multitude of things on your list that have to get done? Then take a step back. If your to-do list has gotten out of control, it’s time to take a step back to reassess. Figure out if everything on there is really necessary. If you’ve just been adding to your list without evaluating the items on it, it’s probably time for a to-do list overhaul.

If you’re feeling stressed about everything you have to do, perhaps the first thing is to release some stress with an intense workout. I always find that I’m better able to focus after I’ve exercised.

Lists are good

I’m a firm advocate of lists. The more lists I have, the happier I am. My Google Keep screen is my happy place. That’s where I store all my notes and lists. If something is on a list, I don’t have to remember it. As I’m getting older, I find that every little bit helps. Every few days, though, I revisit the lists and see if I can delete anything – if my priorities have shifted or if I’ve done things without crossing them off my list.

Although crossing things off a list is one of the best feelings in the world. Plus, the act of crossing items off your to-do list is a stress reducer too.

To-do list overload? Take a step back to reassess

If your to-do list is overwhelming, take 15 – 20 minutes and redo it. Take a step back and go through your to-do list to make it more manageable. Take a look at your existing list and copy to your new list the things that are still important to you to get done. If your situation has changed, don’t hesitate to leave things off your new list. Once you’ve finished copying old items, put them in priority order. (Crucial, Important, Nice and Can Wait.) Then add any new items with their priorities noted. Put your new “Crucial” items at the top of yet another new list, and follow with your other items. If you’ve copied “Crucial” items from your old list, time to reassess: chances are they’re not that “crucial” after all.

Now, every day identify 3 or 4 crucial items to get done and perhaps a couple more things you’d like to see off your list.

So, to move forward toward your goals, take a step back to reassess the things on your to-do list. Make sure that the items on your list actually move you closer to your goals.