By Dr. Mercola
Science has demonstrated the benefit of exercise. However, starting a program after not exercising for several years presents challenges.
The ultimate goal is to move your body, reduce your health risks and enjoy more of your everyday life. Small beginnings can make it easier to move through your day, reduce your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and even improve your creativity and productivity at work.
Over the past three years, trainer Jill Rodriguez has produced fitness videos for our newsletter and has been a fitness trainer for our staff. She's been a personal trainer for 11 years, specializing in hormone-friendly fitness, and is Power Plate certified as a Master Trainer.
If you want to start a fitness program at home but are overwhelmed by the different choices and personal life challenges, you'll be happy to learn it is never too late to start.
Whether you're 20 or 80, healthy or suffer from health conditions, routinely walk or never get off the couch, you are able to enjoy the benefits of exercise. In the featured video, Jill shows you how to develop a fitness program you can live with.
Consistency Is Key to Success
You'll only begin to see gains when you consistently engage in exercise. Being consistent requires that you form a habit of exercising daily.
Habits are formed through associative learning,1 or when you associate a behavior and a stimulus. In other words, you may develop the habit of exercise when you find a personally important stimulus or trigger you associate closely with movement and exercise.
For example, your personal stimulus may be to go on a canoeing trip with your family. Without consistent movement each day, that vacation goal may not be enjoyable or even possible. The stimulus is the vacation and the behavior is exercise. You begin to associate exercise with the positive anticipation of vacation.
Habits are the performance of action that you would find more difficult to stop than to continue. You'll have achieved the habit of exercise when you find it more difficult to miss a workout than to just do it.
Researchers are unclear as to how long it takes to make something a habit. Depending upon the study and the behavior, it has taken as little as 15 days and as long as 250 days.2,3 However, a closer approximation for developing the exercise habit is between 21 and 66 days.
At Mercola.com we are committed to offering our staff the support they need to follow a healthy lifestyle. In the video below is a demonstration of the opportunities our staff have to incorporate healthy eating and fitness into their daily routine.
What Might Stop You From Exercising?
If you routinely spend hours behind a desk at your job and are too tired to move when you get home, you may think that starting an exercise program will be really difficult.
Interestingly, science backs up your perception. There are both biochemical and brain activation changes that occur when you are mentally fatigued, which influence your physical performance.4,5 However, this is a challenge you can overcome.
It's important to remember that you are not training for world class competition, but rather to increase your physical activity one step at a time.
Just getting started, and doing basic movements, is more important than doing nothing. That may sound obvious, but you may overlook the obvious if you're nervous about starting something new.
You may be concerned about fatigue, injury, or family commitments that may interfere with your goal. These concerns are valid, but there are ways of counteracting their influence.
For instance, your mental fatigue can be offset at work by getting up as often as possible. In fact, if you can negotiate a standing desk with your boss, you may find you're more creative, more productive and less physically and mentally fatigued at the end of the day.
While it may take several weeks to build up to working all day at a standing desk, the benefits are worth the effort. Involve your family in your exercise program each evening, so you all benefit from the experience and spend quality time together. Keep in mind that injuries are more likely when you start quickly and push too hard. The goal is to start slowly and be consistent.
5 Common Exercise Mistakes
Knowing the mistakes you may face when you start a fitness program gives you an advantage. You're better able to avoid the problems and follow a more successful path.
• Just get started. As Jill shares with our staff and in her training videos, it is easier to talk about starting to exercise and a bit more challenging to actually start — just like New Year's resolutions are easier to write down than to follow through. In fact, Forbes Magazine says only 8 percent of people achieve their New Year's resolutions.6
TIP: Find an accountability partner or engage someone at home to exercise with you. You're more likely to follow through when there is someone waiting to join you.
• Watch your form. If you don't use the correct form when you exercise, you're more likely to get injured. Even walking poorly can result in back, hip and knee pain.
TIP: Be mindful of your form. If you experience unusual discomfort or pain that keeps you from exercise or other daily activities, seek advice from a personal trainer, chiropractor or physical therapist so you can continue to enjoy the benefits of exercise.
• Always warm up. Whether you start out by walking more slowly or you take a few minutes to do some jumping jacks, diving headlong into exercise after being stationary may lead to pulled muscles. TIP: Spend several minutes doing your intended activity more slowly, giving your body time to increase blood supply to the involved muscles and reduce your risk of injury.
• Add variety to your routine. You may start walking 15 minutes after dinner. After several weeks you may want to include using hand weights at home three days a week, or even take a class at the local gym. You can find a wide variety of exercise videos on my YouTube channel.
TIP: Adding variety means you won't focus on one area of your body and neglect other muscle groups. This leads to more balanced muscle development and less problems with tight muscles and overuse injuries.
• Get quality sleep each night. Sleep is one of the most overlooked necessities for a healthy body. There are a myriad of functions that work optimally when you receive quality sleep. TIP: If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, see my previous article titled "Want a Good Night's Sleep? Then Never Do These Things Before Bed" for suggestions.
5 Practical Ways to Improve Your Physical Activity
Exercise is an optimal part of your everyday health. Treating it as if it were part of your routine activities and not a chore increases the likelihood you'll continue the program. In this video, Jill and I discuss in more detail these five practical ways you can increase and improve your physical activity.
• Replace sitting with movement. Non-exercise movement during the day improves your heart health and reduces your potential for obesity and type 2 diabetes. These movements do not take the place of your daily exercise program, but are important to your overall health. I recommend you don't sit more than three hours each day.
• Use a fitness tracker to monitor your daily steps. If you don't want to purchase an additional piece of equipment, you can use an app on your smartphone. Monitor the number of steps you take each day with the goal of reaching at least 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day.
• Stretch daily. Stretching improves your mobility and reduces your risk of injury from tight muscles or overuse. However, the static stretches you learned at school are not the most effective. Instead, active isolated stretching (AIS) will target muscles and connective tissue in a functional pattern that mimics your spontaneous body movements, without stretching isolated muscles.
Two other functional and compelling ways of stretching include yoga and Power Plate. Yoga gives you a full body stretch working your connective tissue and increasing your flexibility in functional movement patterns. Power Plate is a vibrating platform used by physical therapists and personal trainers to increase circulation and muscle activation. You may use a Power Plate to stretch, strengthen and massage your muscles.
• Include strength training. As you progress through your exercise program, incorporate strength training. I consider this absolutely crucial for any comprehensive exercise program. In an ideal world your muscles would be worked daily during your job and throughout the day. However, global studies show people sit an average of 7.7 hours; some results estimate it is closer to 15 hours each day.7
• Incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This type of cardiovascular training offers better results than traditional cardio activity. You can use indoor machines, such as elliptical trainers or stair climbers, or use your outdoor bike or jogging. For a full explanation of HIIT see my previous article titled, "Peak Fitness: Reap the Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training."
Bodyweight Workouts Eliminate the Need for a Gym
Bodyweight exercises are both effective and convenient. Both beginners and advanced athletes can benefit from the exercises Jill demonstrates in the video above.
Bodyweight exercises are done with just your bodyweight, the floor and other equipment you may find in the room, such as a chair or bed. When you want more of a challenge you can add free weights to your routine. However, as these exercises are done without machinery to guide your movements, it's important you pay special attention to your form.
Bodyweight exercises also allow you to incorporate both strength training and cardiovascular work at the same time. By doing jumping jacks, burpees or jumping rope between your bodyweight exercises you'll keep your heart rate up while strengthening your muscles.
Many times the bodyweight exercises you do will work your core muscles, strengthening your back, abs and gluteal muscles. These exercises also often test your balance and flexibility. They are free to do and are so varied, it's likely you won't get bored. Before discounting the results you may experience from bodyweight exercises, try incorporating them into your weekly exercise program. Results are often experienced quickly when you follow form and stay consistent in your program.