Guest post by Gabe Heck
Gabe is a senior at Cornell University studying government and public policy. He has a keen interest in health, fitness, and nutrition with an extensive background in exercise and strength conditioning.
“Whenever I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until it goes away.”
–Actor Paul Terry
Similar to food (which I wrote about recently), exercise is a vastly misunderstood topic. In fact, it is downright overwhelming to understand and undertake, a major reason why so many Americans choose to bypass physical activity altogether in their daily lives.
Good news: It does not have to be this way. But our approach to exercise must change if we want to see improvements in optimizing our health, body image, and life satisfaction.
This is not an article highlighting the multitude of health benefits that we experience from exercising (spoiler alert: there are MANY!). Rather, I highlight five key tips for collectively “re-thinking” our approach to exercise in order to cultivate a stress-free mindset around the topic.
1) Exercise is movement, not minutes.
Presenting exercise through the conventional “expert” lens as requiring “30 minutes a day, five days per week” does Americans a great disservice. In this paradigm, exercise only adds to the ever-expanding To-Do List.
Exercise is NOT a chore, left uncompleted until those 45 grueling minutes on the elliptical are finally past. Instead, think of exercise as simply moving your body.
This can be a ten-minute walk during a break at work, a few light yoga poses and dynamic stretches as you roll out of bed in the morning, or a quick Tabata session to get blood flowing and provide a nice boost of energy. Conventional exercise (running, biking, weightlifting, etc.) works just as well, but if none of these activities are a good fit for you physically or mentally, just seek to maximize movement throughout the day. More on why this is important for overall health here.
2) Exercise does NOT require blood, sweat, and tears.
Cross-fit. P90X. Insanity. Mike Chang’s Six Pack Abs. We see it all the time: new workout routines guaranteed to “blast fat” and make us ripped—fast. Now, programs like these can certainly work depending on your health goals, but all too often result in injury if too quickly undertaken. In terms of exercising for health rather than purely weight loss, they are not at all necessary (a topic for a future article).
The bottom line: seek to discover ways to be active that you enjoy and will keep practicing regularly! Consistency is far superior to a short period of intense dedication, followed by another 3-month date with the couch and potato chips (admit it, we’ve all been there!).
3) Exercise can be short and sweet.
Our bodies can only endure so much exercise before showing signs of fatigue and breakdown. Running longer, lifting heavier, biking further…they may provide great personal satisfaction, but also require a major dedication of free time and a certain level of fitness to complete.
Utilize the “short and sweet” mantra to open up numerous time slots in your day for a little movement. This can be as simple as a few standing squats or lunges, push-ups, short sprints up and down the block, Tabatas, or even running up and down the stairs a few times! By the end of the day, implementing a few of these practices versus simply sitting on your tush will do wonders in the way you feel—and no “30 minutes five days a week” required.
4) Exercise can help you “tune in” to your body.
A brief glance into my relationship with exercise: My past suggests I was an “exercise-aholic.” An avid runner throughout all of high school and much of college, it was normal to log 80 miles of running per week. Add to this the additional weight room workouts and circuits, and exercise totaled two to three hours per day. “Rest” was for the weak and lazy. I pushed my body to the max, at the time buying into the theory of “more is better” when it came to being fit and healthy.
Despite great success in high school, capturing a state title in track and finishing runner-up in cross country, injuries plagued my collegiate career, and I underwent what turned out to be a career-ending foot surgery in January of last year. Fast-forward to the present day, and my exercise habits have shifted dramatically. I no longer run, and may only officially “work-out” a few days of the week.
I have never felt better or healthier. Through shifting my mindset toward exercise by adopting these five principles, I now tune in and work WITH, rather than against my body, and listen to when it wants to be pushed, and when it needs rest. You too can develop a greater sense of connection with your body through exercise and simple movement.
And last but not least…
5) Exercise is (and should be) REWARDING.
Exercise is not reserved for “the athletes.” It is not punishment, nor a grueling task waiting to be conquered each day. We are all meant to move, and the more frequently we do so the better off we are in terms of our health, mental clarity, and overall vitality.
These tips leave little room for excuses, even for those with limited time to engage in conventional exercise, and they demonstrate that we all can reap the wonderful benefits exercise has to offer. This is the only body you’ll ever have, and learning to find ways to move that you enjoy is crucial in helping it do its very best!
Now, step away from the computer, drop and give me twenty! (Just kidding.) :)Additional resources: Tabata exercises