Don’t Be Afraid of Exercise: Just Keep Moving

My husband and I used to take long walks with Joe and Irene, a lovely couple we knew in State College, Pennsylvania. We’d go up into the mountains of central Pennsylvania and be gone for hours. These walks could be quite strenuous, but they were always fun – and good exercise.

We were careful never to suggest to Joe and Irene they might be going on a difficult hike, however, or they might bite our heads off. They would tell you they absolutely hated hiking and refused to consider going on one. They would walk for hours and hours – as long as we didn’t call it “hiking.”

Why was this terminology so important to them? They felt that “hiking” implied fancy expensive waterproof mountain boots, hydration packs, trekking poles and freeze dried food. All they wanted to do was take some water and a few snacks and go off for the day.

I always think of this couple when I talk to clients about exercise. For some reason, many people think the word “exercise” implies buying an expensive club membership, going to a fancy store and buying the athletic garb to wear on the machines. Don’t forget the headband to catch the sweat and, of course, the most expensive vitamin/mineral flavored water.

The concept of regular exercise is quite daunting for many people. It implies hours each day and dollars most people can’t afford. It creates pictures of people climbing up and down (in place) on machines in the club windows – you know, you’ve seen them as you walk down the street.

If I am talking about you, and you are a club member who really enjoys what you are doing, then Bravo. I may even be a little jealous of you. I certainly encourage folks with the resources to go ahead and join. But only if this is what you really want to do, not what you think you ought to do.

For the others, however, I try to find a happy medium. Instead of the word “exercise,” I start with the phrase “increasing activity”. To me, a body in motion as opposed to a body at rest is being active. Using those large muscle groups, like the ones found in your legs, takes a lot of energy, and that energy is what burns calories.

My preferred activity is simply walking. While it may eventually require a more expensive sneaker (or “walking shoes” as they are sometimes called now!), a regular sturdy sneaker or shoe is fine for beginning a walking program. I encourage my clients to start walking for five minutes, three times a week. Usually they say “but that’s nothing.” My reply? “So what’s stopping you?”

Once they do this for two weeks, I suggest increasing the time to ten minutes, three times a week. Then, every two weeks, I suggest they add another five minutes, until they are walking 30-45 minutes three times a week. Last, I suggest they add an additional day, so they are walking a total of 40-45 minutes 4 times a week. This doesn’t have to be at one time, especially if you don’t have that large a block of free time.

Studies suggest that walking for ten minutes 3-4 times a day may be just as beneficial as a single 45-minute walk. Use the “talk, don’t whistle” formula for measuring intensity. If you can whistle while you walk, you are moving too slowly. If you can’t talk while you walk, your pace is too fast.

So, whether you are a hiker or a walker, a club member or a solitary biker, remember, words don’t matter – staying active does.

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received from your primary care doctor or other medical professionals.