Your body is a complex and beautifully designed system that can become your greatest tool towards a healthy and happy life. Keeping it strong and able is key in staying youthful and preventing stress, injury, chronic disease, and many other issues down the road.
You’ll never find me in the gym, but that doesn’t mean I don’t reap all the amazing benefits of regular exercise and general physical movement. There are many ways to get out and play—moving your body, working your muscles, and strengthening that mind-body connection that is so extremely important to optimal wellbeing.
I’ve included “Body & Movement” as a spoke on my Feel Good Wheel, the focus areas of my upcoming Feel Good Summit, due to the increasingly recognized benefits of physical activity.
We’ve known for quite some time that aerobic exercise benefits cardiovascular health, but we’re now seeing that all types of movement, even slow and mindful practices like yoga and tai chi, additionally benefit our body through decreases in blood pressure, body mass index, and even cholesterol. Science is also showing additional physical benefits from movement, ranging from supporting brain health and cognition to balancing our stress response signals.
One study recently found a strong correlation between middle-aged women who were highly fit and a delayed onset of dementia. Those who were considered at medium-level fitness had a higher risk of dementia with an earlier onset than those who were at a high-level of fitness. We’ve also seen that with inflammatory disorders, like lupus, regular exercise and stress reduction techniques are able to moderate the inflammation and decrease associated symptoms.
Exercise and stress can both impact inflammation on a molecular level, through regulatory effects on the immune system. Clearly, moving our bodies in different ways can have many amazing whole-body benefits.
So what’s the best way to begin a new movement routine? Here are my top five tips for overcoming the intimidation of a new workout routine and settling in to activities that work for your body and schedule:
1. Make it fun! This piece is huge. Choose activities that are appealing to you—whether it’s hiking with a friend, swimming outside, hot yoga at a studio, dancing at a club, or maybe even stationary biking in your own home—if you don’t choose something you enjoy it will be infinitely harder to stick with. On top of that, using this time to exercise but also have fun is beneficial for stress reduction and mental and emotional health. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Try different classes, try outdoor activities like cycling or trail running, just be open to new and exciting opportunities to move your body and get your blood pumping.
2. Start small. You don’t need to go from couch potato to marathon runner in a week. Take small steps towards increasing your physical activity, so that your body can adjust safely and you can take the time to recognize minor benefits and improvements in your everyday life. If walking is where you want to start, incorporate a 15 minute walk into your schedule twice a week for the first week. Then add an extra day the next week. Then add 5 minutes each day. Allow yourself the room you need to change your approach if needed and monitor your results. Additionally, you can work movement into various parts of your day, like taking a walk on your lunch break, or even just parking farther away from the entrance of a store so that you have to walk more. If stairs are an option where you live or work, take them! Keeping a fitness journal can provide a helpful perspective as you begin to dive deeper into your personal relationship with movement.
3. Longer isn’t always better. New research has revealed that we can workout less than previously thought and see even better results. Interval workouts alternate between bursts of high-intensity movements and low-intensity resting periods. The idea is that you can push yourself harder for a short amount of time repeatedly than you can for a continuous, extended period of time, which actually burns more calories and stimulates more muscle growth than steady-state cardio. This approach to exercise can really be incorporated into a wide variety of programs, from walking to weight lifting. It’s also more approachable to the busy person’s schedule: 30-minutes of a total-body interval circuit is more appealing than an hour on the treadmill to most. Plus, due to the varied nature, people have been found to stick with this type of workout over the long-term, when compared to other types of exercise programs.
4. Find a buddy. Many of my patients find planning weekly exercise sessions with a buddy keeps them accountable. Plus, this is a great way to strengthen your relationships and community ties, which as I’ve shared in the past are increasingly linked to better health, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Chances are you have a friend or family member who would also like to incorporate more movement into their health routine, ask around and find someone to start a plan with.
5. Give yourself a day or two off. Once you start feeling the powerful benefits of exercise it’s easy to make it a part of your everyday schedule. While this is a wonderful thing, it’s important to remember that in order for the body to fully reap the benefits of exercise, it also needs a day or two of rest each week. Our muscles and bones need time to mend and strengthen after a challenging workout. This doesn’t mean you should lay around and eat junk food all day, it’s still helpful to get out on a mellow walk or do some light stretching on “down-days”, just be aware that high-intensity exercise can actually be stressful on the body when done seven days a week.
True health involves a combined approach, using many diet and lifestyle practices, in which movement plays an important role. I hope these tips help you find new ways to move your body and calm your mind that you truly enjoy, giving you a boost of fun and whole-body health all at once.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD