by Kirk Hamilton, PA-C
It’s a new year and you’ve resolved to make some major changes in your life. Whether it’s to eat better, stop smoking, or drop some pounds, if there’s one health principle that I can tell you is super important to your optimal health, it’s EXERCISE.
Give me a regular daily exerciser as a patient, and s/he will see me less and get well faster—though, admittedly there are always exceptions. Still, if you want to be well and stay well, stay away from doctors and hospitals, have lower medical insurance rates and bills, have more vitality, and better function into your senior years, then you need to move every day—starting now!
A Daily Regimen is Key
Thinking about how we evolved and the amount of movement done by healthy aging cultures, we need to exercise every day not three days per week, but every day, for a minimum of a half-hour per day. With that said, remember that something is always better than nothing. If you can’t hit your ideal time, be sure to do something. Fifteen minutes of walking is always, always better than nothing because the benefits of exercise are cumulative!
Daily structured movement has to become as essential to your life as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, combing your hair, and other expected activities of daily living. When you get to the point where not exercising feels not right the way you’d feel if you didn’t brush your teeth for the day, then you have built what I call the exercise habit.
Exercise Habit Examples
- When you don’t go home from work until you exercise, you have built the exercise habit.
- When you don’t turn on the TV before you exercise at home, or at least turn on the TV at the same time you exercise, you have built the exercise habit.
- When you look for ways to exercise away from home while on business or vacation, you have built the exercise habit.
- When you don’t try to make an excuse for not exercising, you have built the exercise habit.
- If you say, “Some exercise is better than no exercise,” when you can’t do your regular exercise routine, and you do something else involving movement, you have developed the exercise habit.
If you are new to the exercise game, it is going to take three to nine months before you build the exercise habit and it becomes part of you. What you must do first is to create the space (time) to incorporate exercise into your life.
Fifteen to thirty minutes is acceptable to start. The second thing you must do is to shoot for exercising on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter at first what type of exercise, as long as it is some type of aerobic, big muscle-moving exercise and it is safe.
Building the Exercise Habit
Success with exercise is more about consistency and time than it is about technique and intensity. If you build in the time to exercise as part of your normal day and are consistent with your exercise program, you will see results and will naturally start to pick up the intensity/duration of the exercise after a few weeks.
Some hard-core exercisers will probably disagree with me on this, but to me “pain is no gain.” For the average person, it is far more important to have lots of victories to keep your exercise program alive than it is to push through pain, injure yourself or be so sore that you quit altogether. Nagging injuries, persistent soreness and pain are surefire “killers” to those trying to build an exercise habit. Down the road, after exercising three months to a year, if you really want to push yourself, give it a try. You will be less likely to quit exercising then because you will have built the habit.
Since time is precious to all of us, it is very important that we make exercise time-efficient and as fun as possible. One way to make sure to get your exercise in—even when your busy life (excuses…excuses) is preventing you from getting to the gym—is to do as much “non-exercise” exercise as possible.
Examples of “non-exercise”
- Get up off the couch and change the TV channel instead of using the remote control.
- Get up for 5 to 10 minutes for each hour of sitting. Use breaks to walk or stretch.
- If you watch television, do aerobic exercise in front of your favorite television show daily.
- Do isometrics, contracting and relaxing of muscles, periodically while sitting (hand weights or canned goods work great).
- Restrict sitting to activities that require it, such as eating, learning, writing, keyboarding, and essential driving.
- Sit on a ball while at your home or at work instead of a traditional chair.
- Walk briskly while doing chores, shopping, or errands.
- Do your own gardening or mow your own lawn.
- Take the stairs versus the elevator or escalator.
- Walk in an airport instead of using the moving walkway.
- Park in a far-away spot in the parking lot. Don’t drive around to get the closest spot.
- Walk to a local restaurant around your workplace at lunch.
- Ride your bicycle or walk to work.
- Walk to public transit and use it versus hopping into your car.
These basic examples only cover the simple things we can do as a part of our daily routines. They don’t even begin to account for all the exercise opportunities just waiting to be incorporated into our “fun” time! Remember to start with the goal of a minimum of one half-hour DAILY exercise that you will eventually work up to a full hour of daily aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise means you are moving your big muscles (like your legs and arms) to the point where you get your heart rate up. You should be able to talk but be working out enough so that you break a sweat.
What types of activities constitute aerobic activity?
- Roller skating
- Jumping Rope
- Using the stair-climber, elliptical rider or treadmill at the gym.
- Taking a martial arts or dance classes
Types of aerobic exercise are endless, but spending hours in the gym isn’t necessary. Just do something daily that…
1) gets your heart rate up (aerobics)
2) challenges your muscles (strength training)
3) causes you to extend and contract ligaments, muscles, and tendons (flexibility)
And don’t forget to eat plenty of whole, unrefined plant foods as you possibly can. For more on diet as part of a healthy weight loss plan see Keys to Successful Weight Loss and Keeping it Off!
About Kirk Hamilton
Kirk Hamilton graduated from the University of California, Davis Physician’s Assistant Program through their Department of Family Practice in 1983.
Since 1986 he has been a practicing Physician’s Assistant at Health Associates Medical Group in Sacramento, California, a nutrient oriented general practice. Kirk has worked in a variety of practice specialties including: Family Practice, Nutrition, Prevention, Cardiology, Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement, Allergy, Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine.
About Kirk’s Book
Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane simplifies the causes and effects of modern chronic diseases by outlining the five dietary changes over the last century that have led to excess calorie consumption, and along with reduced physical activity, have resulted in the epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.