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What do you think of when I say “exercise”? Does it bring up images of gym class? Of spandex? Of workout videos?
Or does it bring up moments of pride? When you were able to lift more, go faster, go further, than you thought you could?
I suspect though, that the word exercise does not make you think of going for a casual walk while catching up with a friend. Or what about when you spend time cleaning up the house? Or what about that moment when you stand up and stretch after being stuck in a car, on a bus, or in a plane for several hours. That feeling of moving muscles that yearn for movement – what an incredible feeling!
That is why I used the word “move” when in the 7 foundations for the good life . The neat thing is no matter how you like to move your body there is research to show that it is good for your body and your mind.
- getting up and stretching from time to time,
- lifting weights,
- HIIT (high intensity interval training) or
- LISS (low intensity steady state)
The key is to move in ways that you enjoy and can sustain. If you enjoy seeing how far you can push it, that’s awesome! If you enjoy stopping to smell the flowers, that’s awesome!
If you’re interested in setting up a formal plan, try FITT on for size.1
F – Frequency
Frequency is how often you’re going to do the exercise.
aerobic exercise most days of the week. Most places that I’ve seen recommended aerobic exercise every day, or if you take a day off, not taking two off in a row.
at least 2 days of week including muscle and bone strengthening activities
I – Intensity
If you go see a physiotherapist or a personal trainer, they might talk about intensity based on a percentage of your maximal heart rate. Two other ways to think about intensity are rating of perceived exertion or the talk test.
The talk test is simple. If you can talk but wouldn’t have enough air to sing, then you’re doing a moderate intensity exercise. If you have to stop and take a breath every few words, then you are doing a vigorous-intensity exercise. (Of course this assumes that you are healthy and don’t have any lung problems. Always go see a professional for specific advice if you are unsure.)
The rating of perceived exertion asks you to rate on a scale how much work you feel like you are putting in. There are two different scales one is 6-20 and the other is 1-10. The 6-20 scale is set this way because if you multiply the scale by 10 that should be roughly your heart rate. Both are designed around descriptions that relate to a number on the scale. One great description of the rating of perceived exertion can be found on Harvard’s website.
The scales start at resting at the very bottom of the scales then up to light effort. A moderate level is something that takes effort and makes you heart rate and breathing a little faster, but you don’t feel out of breath. A vigorous exercise would be something that definitely makes your heart and breathing rate fast and feels like a lot of effort.. The very top of the scale would be as much as you possibly could, and you won’t be able to sustain it for more than a minute.
T – Time
Time is an easy one to explain. It is how long you spend on the exercise. The recommendations for adults for aerobic exercise is at least 150 minutes per week. That would be about 22 minutes every day, or 30 minutes 5 times per week. Of course, more is better if you enjoy it and if you don’t injure yourself.
T – Type
Type could be the specific type – like walking, biking, yoga, etc. Or it could be by a broader classification.
Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate – walking, running, biking, swimming
We usually think of weight-lifting, but anything that increases your strength can fit into here. This includes when you have to move things around in the house, pick up a kid (or in my case, a puppy).
I don’t know about you, but I immediately think of standing on one foot or walking on a balance beam. This includes yoga, walking on sand or ice, and yes, standing on one foot.
Yoga is what I immediately think of for a flexibility exercise, but simple stretching fits here too.
My journey of learning to exercise
Let me share for a moment my journey thus far with “exercise”. In middle school, I played basketball and loved it – even went to a week long summer camp. In high school though, I didn’t play. Through high school the only “exercise” I did was what I needed to for gym class. I was active though. My friends and I would often go for a walk just for something to do (especially before any of us had a driver’s licence or car).
Then came university, and again I didn’t exercise, but I did walk. I took the bus to the university every day, so that’s walking to and from the bus stops plus all the walking around the campus. My final year of schooling, internship, was in Regina, SK and public transit wasn’t an option, so I drove. Here my walking went way down, maybe to the grocery store if I wasn’t planning on buying too much and the weather was just right.
Since graduating university and joining the working world, I’ve tried a few different ways to get a regular exercise routine. I’ve tried to learn to like jogging on a few times but that hasn’t taken. I just don’t enjoy it. I’ve also tried getting into a weight lifting routine, but that hasn’t lasted beyond 5 or 6 weeks. What has remained constant is walking and, in the last year, yoga.
Yoga can be considered strength, balance, and flexibility training all rolled into one. Depending on how you do it, it might even be an aerobic exercise too. I also love that, with the wonders of the internet, I can do it in my living room. That means I can do it first thing in the morning before life happens (and I don’t have to squeeze it in in the evening). It also means that I don’t feel self-conscious about trying something new and falling down. So I’m more willing to try something that I don’t think I can do, and sometimes I surprise myself. It’s also cool to be able to do a video that I haven’t done for a while and discover that it is easier than I remembered! I was on a stretch where I did a full yoga routine every morning for about 6 months. Since then, I still do a full yoga routine most mornings. Even when I don’t, I actually stretch throughout the day, and work in moments of mindful movement.
Walking is my aerobic exercise and a great excuse to get fresh air. Since I have a puppy, I usually walk twice a day, 15 to 30 minutes. On the weekends, I go whenever the puppy’s energy gets annoying and go as far as it takes to get him to calm down, and sleep when we get back home. Before I got the puppy, I walked a little further each time I went, but I went less often. I’d walk 3km, but then I’d only go, at most, 4 times a week, when it wasn’t too cold (or too hot). Walking is a great exercise because it doesn’t need any special equipment. You just need a decent pair of shoes and, assuming you have appropriate clothing, you can go in any weather.
I have tried setting all sort of different plans. I’ve tried using the elliptical or weights or jogging, I’ve tried daily, 3 times a week, once a week. I’ve tried high weight low reps, low reps high weight. I’ve tried tracking steps or active minutes. What I’ve found to work for me is starting my day with a walk with the puppy and a yoga session. Having a puppy, I also have to take him for a walk in the evening if I want him to not chew everything he can get his mouth on. For me, the stricter my exercise plan is, the less likely I’m going to do it and even less likely that I’m going to enjoy it. What works for me is to start the day with movement and focus on movement that feels good.
Exercise and movement aren’t just for your body.
Exercise is great for our physical health and it’s great for our mental health too. 2
Exercise releases endorphins that help you to physically and mentally relax. They also block your body from making as much cortisol (stress hormone).
Exercise also give an outlet for anxiety or anger. This might be because of the endorphins, but when I feel either of these emotions and then do some sort of exercise, it feels like the energy is being used up.
Committing to an exercise program and following through proves to you that you can. (We call that self-efficacy, the feeling that you believe and trust yourself to finish goals).
Seeing improvement in your endurance or strengths is a great feeling. The feeling of improving and growing is so important to the good life that I made it one of the 7 foundations. We’ll get to that one later in this series.
Story time. I went out for a walk one day after work. Thoughts were buzzing around in my mind. I headed off for my usual walk to the airport and back – a 3 km round trip. Halfway back, I decided that wasn’t going to be enough, so I took a side road and looped back – adding an extra 3 km to the walk. At the 5km point, as I came around a corner and came up to a large pond, my mind quieted. I felt a great sense of peace and I paused to just look at the water, the waves, and the grasses waving in the wind. The last kilometer home was amazing. I was tired when I got home, and that was probably a big part of the quieting of my mind, but it was exactly what I needed.
A more formal plan might work for you. It can allow you to relax and not think too much about your exercise, because you know it is on the schedule.
Or perhaps something less structured would work for you. It can allow you to relax and be flexible with what life throws your way.
Which way do you think would work better for you?
Until next time,
- Check out the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines and the CDC’s information on measuring physical activity intensity for more details. Those were my sources for this section
- If you want a longer discussion on this check out this article at the Canadian Psychological Association