I love setting goals and sharing my intentions about health and wellness through writing about exercise and physical activity for The Whole U—it’s a great way to inspire others and share all of the amazing resources The Whole U has to offer.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the big, hard-to-attain goals: capital-R resolutions or the latest trendy (and often expensive) way to move. We start something so intense that we can’t finish or fit it into our schedules.
Looking back at an article about my fitness journey from this time last year, I noticed that I set a goal of running a marathon in 2022. Guess what? I never ran that marathon. Life happened and that’s ok.
Once I realized that training for a marathon was not realistic for me in 2022, I adjusted my goals and focused on other ways to move consistently: regular strength training, running and walking when I had the time, emphasizing flexibility, and practicing yoga once a week.
Despite what you may see or hear from the fitness industry or on social media, there is no one best way to exercise, and just because something is new and shiny doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you. There are thousands of ways to move your body, and it’s up to you to determine what type and amount works for your body, your lifestyle and your goals.
Unless you are a competitive athlete, any exercise is good exercise.
In this article we will dive into three main topics: tips for being active, common questions around being active, and professional recommendations about being active.
Tip for being active
- Try hard not to compare your physical activity to previous stages of your life. Start fresh wherever that may be. It can be humbling at times but trust me, only you think this way. You got this!
- Identify activities you enjoy: what kinds of movement do you love? Yoga, dancing, walking, golf, tennis, swimming, Tai Chi? Start with those!
- Think about activities that you know would benefit your health, but that you have a hard time fitting in to your schedule. The best workout sometimes can be the one we didn’t want to do. We can do hard things!
- Write down some activities you already do daily and identify one that you could potentially “habit stack” onto to incorporate movement, starting with 10 minutes per day. Habit stacking pairs a new habit you’re trying to create onto one you already have. For example:
- Do 25 calf raises while you brush your teeth in the morning.
- Practice a challenging yoga pose while your coffee brews.
- Jog or march in place while your food is cooking in the oven.
- Walk 10 minutes after your first cup of coffee.
Common questions around physical activity
How do I stay consistent? Staying consistent is the hardest part of incorporating movement into your daily life. Ideas that might help include:
- Write down a plan or seek a plan to help you with your exercise goals.
- Set a SMART goal. Try this template to help guide you.
- Add your exercise to your schedule/calendar just like you would a meeting or other commitments.
- Try exercising in small amounts of time first then slowly build onto that time.
- Try not to beat yourself up when you fall off track or have a setback. It happens and will happen a lot.
- Grab a friend or exercise buddy to keep each other accountable.
Staying consistent is a process and matters more when you get back into the routine after a setback.
How do I get started when I don’t know where to start? I recommend starting with the activities that you enjoy and designing your plan in small increments. For most adults, the recommendation is to balance cardio, strength, and flexibility each week, beginning with the type of movement you will realistically fit in most.
If you’re looking for suggestions, The Whole U has plenty of exercise resources to tap into! Check out our fitness page for 2023 and choose 1-2 activities to try each week.
How do I not beat myself up for not being able to do certain things or activities anymore? Over time, the ability of our bodies to train, repair and recover will change and what we were once able to do may no longer be an option. We may lose strength, speed or agility, and it can be hard on our self-confidence and leave us feeling unmotivated.
For me, an important antidote to this feeling is to not compare myself to myself from years past. Practicing self-compassion and adjusting my goals and my mindset really helps.
Trying new activities or opportunities is also a great way to amplify your motivation. Novelty in movement is important for brain fitness too, so varying exercise types, mixing up your workouts, and challenging yourself to learn a new activity can help keep the mind sharp and your heart pumping.
Finally, starting from scratch and building towards a fresh, attainable goal—even in an activity that you have previously practiced—can help reset your intentions and give you a fresh perspective. Sometimes when I exercise, instead of judging my intensity by pace or workload I judge by my effort—instead of focusing on the numbers on my watch I just enjoy the movement and the moment.
And remember, all exercise supports a healthy body and a healthy brain!
What should I consider when plateaus hit during my exercise journey? Plateaus are going to happen. I view these as pauses or opportunities to change things up. Try your best to view these in a positive way.
Standard recommendations for exercise:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published their second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This comprehensive publication offers guidelines for children, adolescents, adults (including women during pregnancy and the postpartum period, as well as adults with chronic health conditions and adults with disabilities), and older adults.
UW Recreation summarized the guidelines for us here:
- Move more, sit less.
- Some physical activity is better than none and some health benefits can be attained by doing any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
- For significant health benefits, adults should do at least:
- 150-300* minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, OR
- 75-150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, OR
- An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.
- Ideally, aerobic activity is spread throughout the week.
- *Note: additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities can provide additional health benefits.
- Target all major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week.
- Perform muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity.
So there you have it—in a given week, at a minimum, you should be striving for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities. Now that you know the basic formula, you can start to write your own personal fitness plan. Here are some examples:
In a week, you could do…
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity on 5 days and do muscle-strengthening activities the other two days.
- 50 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity on 3 days, muscle-strengthening activities on 2 days, and rest the other 2 days.
- 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on 3 days, muscle-strengthening activities on 2 days, and rest the other 2 days.
Examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include:
- Brisk walking
- Recreational swimming
- Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour on level terrain
- Group fitness classes like water aerobics
- General yard work or home repair
Examples of vigorous-intensity physical activity include:
- Jogging or running
- Swimming laps
- Bicycling faster than 10 miles per hour
- Group fitness classes like kickboxing
- Heavy yard work like shoveling
More on muscle-strengthening activities:
- Includes resistance training and weight lifting (this includes body weight exercises like push-ups or rock climbing)
- Focus on the muscles of the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms
- Consider the following variables:
- Frequency – how often you do a muscle-strengthening activity, remember you’re aiming for 2 days per week
- Intensity – how much weight or force is used relative to how much a person is able to lift, ideally to the point at which it would be difficult to do another repetition.
- Sets/repetitions – one set of 8-12 repetitions of each exercise is effective; however, 2-3 sets may be more effective.
Move with The Whole U
Check out The Whole U resources around being more active:
- Virtual Fitness and Self Paced Training Plans
- Virtual Classes – Fitness, Strength, Zumba, and more
- The Whole U YouTube Fitness – Yoga, Strength, and Fitness
Enjoy the journey everyone!