Getting More Exercise

Things You Can Do Today to Get In Shape

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama… For no particular reason I just kept on going.

- Forrest Gump

Mark Vakkur, MD

See also: American Heart Association

Think sensible and sustainable... a small change made every day is much more powerful than a radical change that you will never stick to. Adjusting your daily routine is much more effective than swearing to a radical work-out regimen you can't maintain.

Start low, go slow. If you, like most Americans, are sedentary, then start with a few minutes of brisk walking each day. Work up over time to jogging, running, biking, or swimming for 20-30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week. A simple algorithm: work out for half an hour every other day. No log, no schedule, just one simple question: did you work out yesterday? If not, you work out today.

Associate pleasure with working out. Get a new walk-man or mp3 player, load up some music or some books on tape, and listen while you walk or jog or work out. Vary the location, drive to a scenic park, hike a mountain trail, etc. Reward yourself afterwards. Keep a point system, then "cash in" your points by taking yourself out to a dinner or movie. Keep a poster of your progress on the wall. "Run" across the country, moving a pin a mile across a map for every mile you run.

Associate pain with NOT working out. Don't rack yourself with guilt, but hide the television remote and don't find it until you have walked for 40" or run for 20". (In fact, this is reason #929 to kill your television, a major risk factor of obesity.)

Know thyself. Guilt is a poor motivator. Instead of beating yourself up for not being perfect, try to figure out what you can learn by your lapses. Are you more likely to skip a planned work-out in the evening or the morning? Early in the week or on the week-end? Before or after work? Make your schedule fit who you are, not vice versa. If you find you just can't work out on cloudy Thursday afternoons, don't plan to!

Get plenty of sleep. Studies indicate that sleep deprivation and obesity may be related, perhaps because people are too tired to work out when sleep-deprived.

Work out now - forget about "getting everything done." Make working out a priority. You will never clear your desk or your to-do list or have everything just so - if you make this a condition for working out, you will never get around to it. Just do it!

Don't deceive yourself. For most people, even if you're on your feet all day, the exercise you get at work is insufficient for cardiovascular conditioning and overall well-being. A good litmus test is this: did you work out hard enough that your heart raced, you were short of breath, and you sweated so much you had to take a bath or shower? Did you maintain this level of activity for at least 15 to 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week?

Avoid exercise too close to bed time. Exercise releases catecholamines (adrenaline) that keeps your body in a state of arousal, possibly for hours.

Park farther from work. Don't choose the spot closest to the door. Even a hundred yards extra each way adds up to extra miles a year of walking.

Use the stairs instead of the elevator. If you are riding the elevator 1 or 2 flights, unless you have high heels or are disabled, you are passing up an opportunity for some on-the-job conditioning.

Take it one day at a time. Don't worry if you didn't work out yesterday or might not have time tomorrow. Just get out there today! Have fun, live longer, feel better about yourself!