Exercise is a key player in leading a healthier, longer and happier life. It relieves stress, aids in maintaining a healthy weight, lowers your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes, helps control blood pressure, and improves self-esteem by reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. And if these benefits haven’t convinced you, it will also increase your fitness level, build and maintain bones, muscles and joints, develop endurance and strength, and enhance flexibility and posture.
However, not all exercise is created equal. Research shows that it is not just the duration of your exercise that counts, but also the intensity of your workout (think about investing in a heart rate monitor). You want to try to target your heart rate at 65% for as long as you can and to maximize your heart rate with an aerobic push at 85% at least once. Hitting those target heart rates is considered vigorous physical activity.
Now, lets be realistic. Breaking a sweat is easier said than done. Motivation is key and setting realistic micro-goals along the way to lead you to your ultimate goal is the most effective way to cross the finish line, and then keep going. I know how difficult it is to incorporate exercise into your daily routine; between work and family it seems like a low priority. Why are there only 24 hours in a day?! But once you get into a routine it becomes habit like brushing your teeth, you can’t go a day without doing it!
No matter what how much you are currently exercising, keep this in mind:
Beginner: If you are trying to lose weight and are incorporating exercise into your plan (which I highly recommend), start by focusing strictly on your diet for the first two weeks and then hit the gym. Focusing on your diet for the first couple of weeks instead of rushing to the gym will allow time for your body to naturally lose any lingering bloat, amp up your energy levels, and give you deeper sleeps for a more energized workout. It’s best to set realistic goals about both your diet and exercise plans - trying to wake up at an insane hour and go to the gym everyday when you've never had a gym membership before, does not pave the road to success. Start with three days a week and get in thirty minutes of vigorous exercise (walking on the treadmill or outside, or using the elliptical, bike or stair climber).
Already Exercising: Boost your exercise from three to five days a week. Consider investing in a heart rate monitor or activity tracker. Seeing numbers and statistics can be very motivating!
Already Exercising Five Days: You may already be doing just fine. Make sure to adjust your activity to your caloric intake. If your activity level makes you hungry, consider reducing your energy expenditure to see if it has any effect on your appetite.
My Top Exercise Tips, Tricks and To Dos
After reading these tips and tricks, I hope you’re ready to put your best foot forward to reach your goals!
- If you're joining a gym, choose one that makes you feel comforable. I have had clients who joined gyms and then were discouraged because everyone there was a skinny-minny spandex queen. If going to the gym is going to make you feel bad about yourself, it's not going to help. Find one that's welcoming and has an atmosphere that makes you feel at home. Even if you have to travel just a bit more, it will be worth it.
- No time for the gym? Consider killing two birds with one stone by switching up your commute. I’ve gotten in the habit of running to or from work. Biking and waking up a bit early for a brisk walk to work can also do the trick. Regardless, aim for about 30 minutes of a moderate to vigorous cardio workout.
- Consider a personal trainer. Sometimes it's just too hard to get started all on your own. It's also extremely helpful to have an expert guide you through the best exercise routines to suit your physical condition and schedule. If this is a strain on your budget, bear in mind that you don't have to rely on a trainer for a long time. Sometimes just a few sessions to get you started are all you need.
- Keep yourself entertained during the workout. This can be anything from creating an energizing playlist to watching your favorite TV show, or downloading a personal training track app. If you are one of those people who hates repetition or gets bored on the treadmill, take a dance class! Keeping yourself engaged will make the workout pass quicker and more enjoyable.
- When you didn’t go the gym that day… do not stress, there are a multitude of activities you can do right in the comfort of your own home. Dips while watching TV, abs on your child’s bedroom floor while he/she falls asleep, walking lunges around your living room or running up/down your flight of stairs. For bursts of energy, if you are ever faced with the choice of an elevator or stairs, always opt for the stairs!
- Intervals are key! Interval training is a proven method for reaching your maximum heart rate. Most cardio machines now have an interval option but there are also gym classes that incorporate this type of training. You can also do intervals yourself: sprint for 30 seconds, walk/jog for 1 minute and repeat for up to thirty minutes.
- Mix it up! When you have no motivation, take a spin class, a weight training class, a dance class (Zumba!), yoga or pilates- these teachers are trained to keep you engaged and to motivate you. Yoga is also a great way to tighten your abs and strengthen your back muscles, which are hardest to strengthen and often get overlooked.
- Don’t forget about weight training. You should aim to do weights 2-3 times a week to build and strengthen your muscles. I target my biceps, triceps and shoulders since those are used least in cardio workouts. And don’t be afraid to use the machines, or grab a body bar- they are there for you!
- Change the channel… to the exercise channel on your TV. There are great exercising tips and new exercises that will keep your work out fresh.
- Dress the part. It may seem silly, but wearing tighter clothes to exercise in will improve your workout. Invest in clothes that make you feel good. Baggy clothes weigh you down and can get in the way. If you're going for a morning workout, lay out your clothes and get everything ready the night before. Planning on working out after work? Pack your bag before bed so it's ready to grab. Seeing those clothes all ready for you is a great reminder to get moving!
- Sip don’t gulp. Make sure you hydrate 30 minutes prior to your workout but only sip your water during it. Also, don’t eat within 30 minutes of beginning exercise because your body will not have digested yet. Post workout, it is important to refuel on electrolytes, protein and some carbohydrates to compensate for essential nutrients that have been lost through sweat. An apple with peanut butter or a nutritious smoothie with protein powder fits the bill.
- Stretch!! I know you want to just race out of the gym but you need to cool down your muscles. Be sure to take 5 minutes at the end of your workout to stretch. This will also improve your flexibility!
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