In fact, the percentage of people doing any type of regular physical activity has declined over the past decade, rather than increased. Hopefully, if you do some type of daily exercise, it's more than likely that you know someone who doesn't, or someone who starts a fitness programme only to stop a few weeks later.
And anyone can get stuck in an exercise rut, where our inspiration and motivation drops. As an individual in love with the life process and well aware of the necessity of exercise for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, I would like to share one of the methods I've learned in my career for how to make exercise work for you.
Set meaningful goals
Before you start any kind of gym routine or workout programme, it is always important to set some sort of goals (other than just doing the exercise itself). If you don't have a reason to go the gym, you'll never feel any real sense of accomplishment and, without any sense of accomplishment, it's going to be hard to enjoy your routine or stick to it. Setting a goal also helps you to track your progress. Just as the sight of the finish line gives a runner the strength to make that final dash at the end of a race, as you get closer to achieving your goal, you'll feel more drive to get the gym and do your exercise programme.
When you have a goal in mind, it is also much easier to choose your types of exercise as well as the exercises themselves. For example, if you want to lose weight and improve your body shape, contrary to popular belief, I recommend resistance training, not cardiovascular exercise. Resistance training builds muscle, which has the highest metabolic rate of all our tissues. The more muscles you have, the more calories you burn, even when resting.
Cardiovascular training does the opposite, and tends to take muscle off your body. This is particularly related to the fact that prolonged steady-state cardiovascular exercise, such as running on a treadmill at a constant pace for 30 minutes, stimulates high levels of stress hormones called 'glucocorticoids'. These hormones are antagonistic to strength and muscle development. On the other hand, sprinting can have the opposite effect, as it stimulates anabolic or tissue-building hormones, provided that your sprinting programme is properly designed.
These differences in types of exercise explains why distance runners and sprinters have noticeably different types of bodies. Distance runners tend to be skinny because their training is antagonistic to building muscle, while sprint training is anabolic and results in the typical heavily muscled sprinter's body.
Although many people's motivation to exercise is to lose weight or drop dress sizes, your goal does not need to be aesthetic at all. It may be simply to be able to take your kids camping, get in shape to play tennis, dance the night away at your 25th school reunion, or simply come home after work each day and have enough energy to enjoy your hobbies. Whatever you choose, it must be important to you; otherwise, when it is 'inconvenient' to exercise, you will not be motivated enough to get up and get out there.
Get excited about your goals
Once you've set your goal, you need to make achieving it fun. For some of us, exercise is an exciting part of our day. Those who love to exercise typically know enough about exercise and know enough exercises to keep it interesting. But if you do anything repetitively without variety, it gets old pretty quickly. That's the sticking point for lots of people, especially if you aren't an athlete or experienced in using the gym. So, to keep motivated, you need to be able to achieve your goals with a variety of different methods to keep your workout routine interesting.
But now, you may be saying, "But I don't know how to do anything in a gym and I'm not an athlete." That's okay. We can apply the variety principle to any activity, even walking. Here are a few ideas that can make just walking more enjoyable.
o Change your route regularly.
o Alternate between walking briskly for a given period (1 to 3 minutes, for example) and at a more relaxed pace for the same period.
o Alternate the terrain: find trails, walk through the park, climb hills and take short cuts.
o Get a dog and take it for walks-or get a really big dog and it will take you for walks. There are plenty of people who would be happy to lend you their dog from time to time.
If you don't have much of an exercise aptitude due simply to a lack of exposure, there are many things you can do. To begin with, most gyms have a variety of classes going on, and the types of exercise often range from the calmer and less aggressive yoga and Pilates methods all the way to cardio kickboxing. Try out different classes with different instructors and find the ones that appeal to you, then add these into your exercise routine. Classes can also be helpful if getting to the gym is a challenge for you; as they start at a set time, you have an external motivation to get there on time.
Don't let the fact that you don't have a gym near you or that you may be unfamiliar with a gym get in the way of setting fitness goals either. Both of these 'problems' are easy to fix. If you don't live close to a gym, you can reach your goals with a few simple pieces of equipment, such as the Swiss ball and a bit of knowledge (see the article on exercises comprising a Swiss-ball circuit; WDDTY vol 20 no 10, pages 16-17). If you want to improve your strength and stamina at work or for most sports, such as soccer, tennis, netball, snow sports or even golf, keep your eyes open for an upcoming article on medicine-ball training. There are also numerous books and DVDs available to help you achieve your fitness goals at home or at a fitness facility.
Whether you exercise at home or at a gym, there are now more exercise toys and tools than ever before. As I've mentioned, the Swiss ball is a great piece of equipment that can be used in all sorts of ways. You can also incorporate medicine balls, wobble boards, BOSU(R) balls and functional exercise machines like the Pro Fitters. There is also a virtual smorgasbord of cardiovascular conditioning machines. If you are an elliptical-trainer addict, for example, try a rowing machine for a change. Many of these toys are inexpensive, can be delivered direct to your home or are available in many gyms, and can provide fun exercise alternatives to avoid boring repetition in your routine.
If you truly lack inspiration, then hire a fitness professional to design a personalized exercise programme for you that you can then do by yourself at the gym or at home. However, make sure that you select a well-trained professional who will listen to your goals and help you to achieve them, not someone who will just give you the latest one-size-fits-all fad workout.
To keep yourself fit and healthy, remember this simple formula: set a goal and make getting there fun. Add a little variety to your workouts and you'll find yourself getting results that you never thought were possible before.
Adapted from How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! by Paul Chek, founder of the C.H.E.K Institute in Encinitas, CA, and an internationally recognized lecturer and educator in the fields of orthopaedic rehabilitation, and corrective and performance exercise. For more information, call 01924 566 091 (UK) or visit his website at www.chekinstitute.com.
WDDTY VOL 20 NO 11