by Steven Aldana, Ph.D.
I have devoted my professional life to helping people adopt healthy lifestyles. If I’ve learned one thing in my efforts, it is that many people struggle to eat a healthy diet and struggle even more to stay physically active. The struggle comes not because people don’t care; almost everyone cares about their health, body weight and quality of life. We struggle because there are barriers we have to overcome before we will be successful.
Sometimes. these barriers are nothing more that excuses. Have you ever used one of these excuses for not exercising: I don’t like to get sweaty, I don’t have time, I don’t have any money, The weather is bad, I live in an unsafe neighborhood, I’m lazy, Exercise is painful, I don’t like sports, I’m embarrassed to be seen exercising, or I’m pregnant or nursing? For every one of these barriers there is a solution, but let’s take a look at the most common one of all: lack of time.
To get almost all of the benefits of exercise you should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity activity every day. This seems like a lot to most people, but 25% of adults in the U.S. already do this, and so can you if you can overcome your barriers. There are activities that you must do every day and there are activities you want to do every day. Make a list of things you must do each day and the amount of time it takes you to do them. Don’t forget to add 8 hours for sleeping. To this, add the amount of time you spend doing the things you want to do each day. Your total has to be less than 24 hours.
Now that you have an idea of what your average day looks like, there are two ways to find time to exercise. You can combine it with activities you must or want to do, or you can make exercise a priority and make room for it on your “must do” list. Really busy people can combine exercise with the other activities.
For example, if you have to go to work, park your car further away from your destination and walk; use stairs instead of the elevator; go for a walk during your lunch break; mow the yard with a push mower. Think of household chores as opportunities to exercise. Sweeping, cleaning windows, washing cars, or gardening can all be good sources of exercise. When you are spending time with loved ones, make physical activity part of your time together. Why not go for a walk together or play a sport? Start a hobby that requires physical activity such as golf or gardening. Why take the car when you can walk?
To make exercise a priority, you will need to spend less time doing one of your daily activities. The average American spends 2 hours watching TV every day. Go for a short walk during the morning, then take a longer walk during lunch. You don’t have to get your exercise on one 30 minute block of time, you can split it up any way you like and you will still get the benefits.
Another effective way to stay active is to have a social support system that supports your desires to be active. It’s tough to go it alone. Whether you are already physically activity or you’re trying to become active, help from others makes it easier.
When you include others in your exercise, you gain many advantages. Suppose you walk briskly every morning. One day you wake and the temperature has fallen and it feels cold. If you know your walking partner is waiting for you at the corner, you can’t bail out on her. It’s just not nice to leave your friends out in the cold, wondering if you are coming. If you know someone is depending on you, you are less likely to make excuses.
Exercising with others is a social experience. I don’t know if it counts as a real date, but each day I spend a little time exercising with my wife. It’s a great time for us to communicate, plan and be together. When one of us doesn’t feel like exercising, a pouting face and a sincere “pleeeeease” can almost always get the lazy one out the door. As we walk or jog, we see other groups walking. A neighbor who is blind walks with the aid of a friend. We see whole groups of women walking in the early morning hours. We also see young mothers pushing children in strollers. The kids love the ride and mom’s getting a good workout.
Getting regular exercise is not easy, but the benefits are definitely worth it. Research we are just now completing shows that a healthy lifestyle can give you an extra 10-20 years of high quality, extended life!