Starting Activity

We promised you more blog posts--blog posts at You&Me are for tidbits; history, health tips, information for contributors, announcements and so on. We produce all our blog posts in house, and do not accept guest posts. So without further ado-

Being more active: A beginner’s guide

You can’t spend five minutes on the Internet at Pubmed or Jstor or whatever searching for heart disease research without running into a solid fifty years  worth of articles that reveal that (gasp) active people (whatever that means in that particular study) have less heart disease of the artery clogging type.

It’s these kind of studies that produce those “Exercise Prevents Heart Disease” headlines that show up on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it’s not that clear cut. Instead, it’s the old puzzler, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” In other words, is it that being more active makes you healthier, or that healthy people are naturally going to be more active than sick ones? In science, this is often stated as correlation does not equal causation.

So with that disclaimer, do you still want to be more active? Great. It’s still entirely possible that being more active can improve your mood, strengthen your bones and increase your overall energy, even if it’s not a magic road to immortality.

In fact, you’ve probably made a number of resolutions in the past around being more active. If they didn’t work, the problem was probably that you did not know how to properly start increasing your activity.

Firstly, activity and being active is not the same thing as exercising. All exercising (running, sports, weightlifting etc.) is activity but all activity is not exercising. Exercising is a subset of activity that is more like the black belt level of activeness. You wouldn’t climb in the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world after a few boxing for fitness classes, because you’d get injured, not have a very good time, and likely never do anything boxing related again.

Seems pretty clear when it’s put like that, but so many times the editorial we has seen people at the local fitness gym doing the exact equivalent. Some pleasant, thirty-ish, slightly out-of-shape, obviously new to the gym lady is being shepherded around by a staff member, who is clearly a qualified instructor because he has a t-shirt on with “trainer” printed on the back. Together he guides her through 30 leg lifts, 20 sit-ups, 40 crunches…STOP! If you’ve never exercised before, or not a least in the past few months, that’s way too much activity. That’s stepping in the ring with Muhammad Ali—in 1970.

And on top of all that, to repeat, it doesn’t have to be “exercise” to be activity. It could be walking the dog. Weeding the garden. Shopping, doing the laundry, or cooking and cleaning. (Umm…since women usually live longer than men, maybe activity does make you live longer.)

So what’s the right way to start adding more activity to your life? Glad you asked, because we’re going to tell you. *

The basic principle is: Start small and go slow.

For example, let’s say you’ve decided to start doing some walking. Excellent choice! Almost everyone is coordinated enough to walk, it requires no specific clothing or equipment beyond shoes that don’t hurt your feet and can be done almost anywhere. Here’s how to start properly and build up a long term walking habit.

Note: The first few times should only be done in your house, office, or apartment. Being inside will help you avoid over doing it. 

Step One. Put on your shoes—or not, as shoes (or in certain areas clothes) are completely optional at this stage. And put down that Lisa What’s-her-name DVD, that’s way too advanced.

Step Two. Check the time on your watch, clock or cell phone. If you have a stopwatch function (or actual stopwatch) you can use it. Turn on your music if you like.

Step Three. Walk around your house, office or apartment for one minute.

Step Four. Stop. Stop walking. That’s enough, for the first day. Relax. Check “walk” off your to-do list. We’re done.

OK, the first day’s history. But what should you do tomorrow? Well, to start with you should plan to walk a least three times a week, and depending on your age and any joint issues you most likely will want to eventually walk four or five times a week. Don’t push it. The key word is “want.” If you find yourself making excuses not to walk, decrease the frequency.

How many minutes should you walk? Is it always one? No, by the end of first week you should have advanced, gradually to one-and-one-half minutes, or, if tolerated two. After two weeks, you should be approaching five minutes! Do not, under any circumstances, however go past five.

If after two weeks you think walking might be for you, you might be ready to go outside, as it gets boring walking around your living room after a few minutes. You can gradually add two minutes to your walking time over the course of each week. For example if you start the week walking five minutes, and you plan to walk four times that week you can add about 40 seconds or so each day and reach seven minutes for the next week.

Because you didn’t overdo it, left yourself wanting more, didn’t overtire or injure yourself and experienced a positive accomplishment you’ll have started a long term activity habit. Congratulations and have fun!


*You and Me—America’s Medical Magazine doesn’t know you and has no idea what kind of medical conditions you might have. If you have any health concerns consult your physician before being any new activity, and so on and so forth.

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