5 Easy Ways to Get More Active

SBM: 5-easy-ways-to-get-more-active

Siobhan Phillips, PhD, MPH; Assistant Professor, Northwestern University

Dori Rosenberg, PhD, MPH;  Assistant Investigator, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Samantha Harden, PhD; Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech

Linda Trinh, PhD; Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

For adults age 18 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week with two days of full-body strength training. For those 65+ years of age, it is also recommended to focus on balance and agility exercises to avoid falling and to maintain your quality of life. However, the majority of us fail to meet these recommendations, and it’s often not for a lack of trying.

Becoming and staying active is not just about working your body. We all experience barriers such as scheduling issues, busy lives, a lack of confidence, choosing the wrong exercises, or not having anyone to go try that new class in the neighborhood. Knowing you are not alone in this struggle often helps us change our attitudes and we can begin, or try again, to be active.

The following outlines 5 easy ways to start and sustain a more active lifestyle that have been tested in countless research studies.

  1. Start off slow. Trying to do too much too soon can be overwhelming and lead to injuries that won’t help your end goal or being regularly active. Check in right now: How much aerobic activity are you typically doing each week? Let’s say you walk the dog for 15 minutes 3 times a week. That’s great! What can you do in the coming week to increase duration and intensity of your exercise program? Next week, maybe you can set a goal to walk the dog for 15 minutes, 5 times. A moderate intensity is any exercise that makes you breathe harder without feeling out of breath. You should still be able to carry on a conversation, but you can’t sing! If you are exercising at a moderate level, you should start to sweat after 10 minutes. For example, walking quickly as if you were late for an appointment is a moderate intensity exercise. Briskly walk up the stairs instead of the elevator between meetings. Every little extra effort offers health benefits.
  2. Share your goals, success, and support. The simple act of telling someone else about your goals helps provide support and keep you accountable. Ready to take it up a step? Ask someone to share their goals with you (now you’re the cheerleader for health), or find ways to be active together. Finally, keep each other posted. What’s working? What’s not? You can brainstorm together for successful strategies going forward.
  3. Find balance between comfort and discomfort. In general, we can all get outside our comfort zones more. We can try to get comfortable with being a bit uncomfortable! There may be times muscles are sore that you didn’t know existed, but embrace the change and know you are working hard to be healthier. However, you don’t have to stick with an exercise type that isn’t enjoyable or fun. Early on, try new activities to figure out what you enjoy. The more fun you have, the more likely you are to do it! Plan active outings with your friends and family to achieve your fitness goals. Some examples include hiking, canoeing, biking, and walking. Playing a sport is a great way to do a lot of exercise and make it fun instead of work. Consider joining a league or gather some friends and play a game of baseball.
  4. Planning is essential. Schedule your weekly exercise routine and have a plan in place for overcoming things that get in your way. There are many obstacles that may steer you away from exercise, but the key is to recognize these barriers and think of strategies to overcome them. When you anticipate a barrier and think of ways to work around it, you are more likely to stick to your workout plan. Plan trying a new exercise type or class to make it harder to find an excuse to skip it. Develop a buddy system with a few friends to make plans for exercise. This is a great way to hold you accountable to someone and helps you stick to your exercise program. Whenever possible, try to exercise in a group of three because if one person backs out, you still have another friend that you can exercise with. Keep in mind, doing things you like with people you like may help you stay on task!
  5. Set realistic goals for yourself, track your progress, reward yourself in a healthy way when you meet these goals, and don’t beat yourself up when you fall short. Write down your activity in a log, record it in a smartphone app or wear a wearable device such as a Fitbit to automatically track it. Research has shown that setting goals will help you start and keep on top of your new exercise program. It is good to set both short-term and long-term goals that are performance or fitness based to provide a sense of direction, purpose and motivation when working towards change. Reaching these goals can be extremely rewarding. You aren’t going to lose 20 pounds or run a marathon overnight. Consistency is key. Setting realistic expectations can keep you motivated. You can talk to a friend, a local personal trainer, or a number of other health coaches and experts to get ideas on what a realistic goal might be. Once you achieve a goal, perhaps you can reward yourself by getting that grill for healthy meals or a pair of new running shoes. The reward should be something special so that it motivates you to reach your goals.

Don't be too hard on yourself if you have an unexpected lapse in your exercise program. Sometimes life gets in the way. Illness, travel, and other factors can cause a short-term detour. Relapses and lapses are a normal part of behavior change, but the key is to not let a lapse linger and become a total collapse in terms of exercise. With a little planning, you can avoid some of the common situations where lapses are likely going to happen. If this happens to you, resume your exercise program by starting at a lighter intensity and/ or for a shorter duration to build up your confidence again.

We know becoming and staying active can be tough. Remember you don't have to complete the entire exercise duration in one session. You can try doing 10-minute bouts of activity throughout the day to add up to 30 minutes, for example. You can do some brisk walking for 10 minutes in the morning, take a 10-minute walk during lunch, and a 10-minute walk in the evening. Now you have your 30 minutes of exercise.

You can do this. Set weekly goals. Track your progress. Be patient and stick with it. Watch yourself succeed!

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