You have heard of the endless benefits of physical activity; you don’t need a lecture from me. You know it can lower your risk of heart attacks and stroke, strengthen your bones, improve your mood, and even make you look better. On any level, exercise is the closest thing to a magic bullet for staying healthy and aging well.
In Chinese medicine, regular exercise is also part of staying healthy. Moving your body helps everything else flow smoothly, including your digestion, your muscles, and even your emotions. In addition, physical activity is an important part of the work/rest cycle. When you rest a little too much, not only do you become a couch potato, but your body tends to stagnate. Things hurt, your digestion suffers, you don’t sleep as well, you accumulate dampness in the form of fat, and even your mental health takes a hit because you’re a little stressed and cranky–all symptoms that could be alleviated by a little movement (along with some acupuncture).
So okay, you know that you need to exercise, but it’s been awhile since you laced up your running shoes or ridden your bike. In fact, you just don’t feel like getting out there at all. You have the best of intentions; you know it’s good for your health; you have all the equipment, but …you just don’t have the motivation to move.
I have been there and so have many of my patients. But that inertia can be overcome. Here’s some help in the form of tips and tricks to banish the excuses, get your body moving, your energy flowing, and put stagnation on notice:
- First of all, start small. You don’t have to train for and compete in a marathon or climb the highest mountain in your state. Just go take a walk, play a game with your kids, or hop on your bike.
- Find a partner. A fitness buddy will keep you honest. Knowing that your pal is waiting for you on the corner for an early morning bike ride makes it a lot harder for you to turn over and go back to sleep. Furthermore, it’s fun to exercise with someone else.
- Try something new. Try a new activity, take a different class, or find a new walking path. If the thought of pounding out another mile on the treadmill is depressing, this tip’s for you. Boredom is a buzz kill when it comes to exercise, so give it some thought. You can rent just about any piece of sporting equipment imaginable, so if you’ve always wanted to try canoeing or snowshoeing, it’s easy to give it a try.
- Keep it realistic. With your job, kids, obligations, etc., you may not be able to exercise every day. But you may be able to swing three days a week. Good enough; it’s better than nothing. And who knows where that might lead?
Keep it simple. When all else fails, just go take a walk. You’re moving your muscles, exercising your heart and lungs, strengthening your bones, and taking some time to clear your head. You can’t go wrong.
- Have fun. Remember when you ran around the yard and played games as a kid? That was fun. One of the main reasons most people stop exercising is because they’re not having fun. It can be fun, however, whether you walk with a friend, explore your neighborhood by bike, try some new dance moves, or get reacquainted with your old hula-hoop. The key to sticking with it is having fun.
- Bribe yourself. It’s not dishonest to reward yourself after you’ve done the work of getting your booty moving. Get a massage or manicure, take a long hot bath, get a new piece of sports clothing, or do whatever works to keep you going.
- Make it easy. Set up a home fitness center, which can be as simple as a few exercise CD’s and a mat, some hand weights, or an exercise bike. The convenience of having some equipment at home will help you fit movement into your busy day. When your schedule doesn’t allow for you to spend a lot of time exercising, 20 minutes in your basement with a yoga CD may be just what you need.
Build fitness into other areas of your life. If you’re struggling to find the time or motivation to exercise, look for creative ways to turn your everyday activities into exercise. For example, ride your bike to the store, turn walking the dog into an aerobic event, shovel some snow, or get your garden in shape.
Work towards an event. Whether it’s a hiking vacation or a walking/running race, commit to an event, put it on your calendar, and go to work. Knowing that you need to be in shape for something in three or six months can help keep you exercising today.
Mix it up. Getting sick of your same old walking routine? Substitute a yoga class, weight workout, or bike ride a couple of times a week. It’ll keep all your exercise sessions fresh.
Get some help. There’s nothing better than an athletic trainer or a coach who can kick your butt. I have found personally that working with a trainer has rekindled my motivation to get in shape, and I find myself exercising harder and smarter in a shorter period of time. While a trainer can be a little pricey, I have found that the money spent is completely worth it.
Whatever strategies you try, remember two things: movement is really good for you, and yes, you really will feel better after you’ve exercised.